Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Burnt Caramel Glaze

“Crème Brûlée” is a very popular and trendy dessert frequently served in restaurants in New Orleans. It is a creamy, smooth baked custard with a crispy burnt sugar glaze. In the past, I’ve posted recipes for a healthy crème brûlée version using yogurt and fruit and for a recipe for a custard-type “Pumpkin Flan.” Now, with Valentine’s day approaching, I’m making the real deal. This recipe is full of eggs, rich cream and scraped vanilla bean. It will stand up to any crème brûlée recipe served in a restaurant.

The best “Crème Brûlée” dessert that I’ve ever tasted was served at Jacques-Imo’s Restaurant in New Orleans. It is their signature dessert (also about the only dessert) and I am sure the recipe is a well-kept secret. Here is their version.

We visited the restaurant this past November for a fun trip into the city and a memorable meal. Where else will your waitress have a tattooed mustache? Or where else can you eat your meal in a truck bed outside the restaurant?

For my recipe, I’ve adapted the ingredients just a bit to fit my preferences. This includes using whole eggs rather than just the egg yolks. The resulting custard is just a bit firmer and it has less egg flavor than traditional crème brûlée recipes. Mine is very creamy and smooth. Oops, I really burnt the sugar on this batch. Actually, the burnt sugar really enhances the dessert and makes a crispy caramel crust.

Recipe Ingredients

Here are the ingredients for my custard. It actually contains just a few ingredients — eggs, heavy cream, sugar, a tiny bit of salt and a vanilla bean. It’s a large recipe, using six eggs and four cups of heavy cream.

The vanilla bean adds to the vanilla flavor of the custard. I used a whole vanilla bean and scraped the seeds for this recipe. In my final recipe ingredients, I included two vanilla beans for this large custard quantity. Alternately, you could add one teaspoon of vanilla extract. The scraped vanilla bean adds dark specks in the custard. I don’t mind; but if you object, strain the custard before pouring into custard dishes.

Making the Recipe

To make this recipe, I used the electric mixer to beat the eggs until they were creamy, smooth and pale. Who wants bits of eggs in their dessert? Then I added the sugar and blended it with the eggs. Next, I added in the scraped vanilla bean and salt. I very gently heated the cream on the stove until steam escaped (not quite scalding) and before the cream boiled. I slowly added the warm cream to the eggs and sugar mixture in a thin stream, stirring constantly. Then I filled individual custard cups. This quantity filled nine 1/2-cup custard cups.

Water Bath to bake the custard

One of the tricks of this recipe is to bake the custard cups in a water bath. So, set the filled custard cups in a roasting pan or cookie sheet with edges. Fill the roasting pan with water so it comes half way up the edges of the custard cups. Bake in a low-heat oven at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. The edges of the custard should be set, but the custard may still giggle. Watch what you are doing. It is easy to tip the roasting pan and spill boiling water on your feet!

Remove the custard cups from the water. The custard should cool completely and chill until firm — at least 2 hours. You can bake this dessert a day ahead of time and chill overnight.

Burnt Caramel Glaze

The burnt caramel glaze is the star of this recipe. Don’t skip it. To make the glaze, sprinkle about 1/2 tablespoon of sugar on top of each custard. You don’t need much sugar — a thin layer is plenty. Use a pastry brush to remove sugar from the edges of the cup. Either use a small kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar or place the custard cups under a broiler and broil until the sugar is burnt. Because the custard cups are chilled, I placed them in a cold oven on the center rack, then turned the broiler on. After the cups warmed, I moved them closer to the broiler. Watch closely, the sugar can burn quickly.

Favorite Dessert

There’s a reason why this custard is so popular. It is a creamy, smooth and not an over-powering baked custard. If made properly, you don’t taste the eggs. And the burnt sugar caramel glaze sets off the custard. It has quickly become one of our favorite desserts. It is not that difficult to make; but you do need to take time and pay attention to what you are doing. I hope you try it and enjoy this New Orleans classic dessert.

Let’s hope all the Mardi Gras parades and balls can happen on schedule this year!

Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Burnt Caramel Glaze

  • Servings: nine 1/2-cup custard cups
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 6 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cup cup sugar plus about 3-4 tablespoons for topping
  • 2 scrapped vanilla beans (alternately, 1 scrapped vanilla bean and 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups heavy cream

Instructions and Steps:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Add eggs to medium-sized bowl of electric mixer. Beat at medium speed until eggs are pale and creamy.
  3. Gradually pour in 1-1/4 cup sugar and mix until blended in.
  4. Add scrapped vanilla beans (or vanilla bean and extract) an salt. Blend in. Set aside.
  5. Add heavy cream to saucepan. On medium heat, gently warm the cream until it just steams. Do not scald or boil cream.
  6. Then while whisking the egg/sugar mixture, add about one cup of the warm cream in a slow stream until combined and the eggs are tempered. Add this mixture back into the remainder of the cream in the saucepan, whisking the cream constantly.
  7. Pour the custard mixture into nine 1/2-cup custard cups. Place the filled cups in a large roasting pan or large cookie sheet with rims.
  8. Fill the roasting pan (or cookie sheet) with hot water so that the water comes half way up the sides of the custard cups.
  9. Bake on center rack for about 45 minutes, until the edges of the custard are set. The center of the custard may still jiggle.
  10. Remove from oven and from hot water bath. Cool completely in refrigerator, about 2 hours to overnight.
  11. Prior to serving, place chilled custard cups on a baking sheet. Sprinkle about 1/2 tablespoon of sugar on top of each custard. Use pastry brush to remove any sugar from edges of custard cup.
  12. Caramelize the sugar with small kitchen torch. Alternately, place the custard cups on cooking sheet in center rack of cold oven. Turn on broiler. Broil for about 5 to 10 minutes until sugar topping is caramelized and amber color and slightly burnt. After custard cups warm, the cookie sheet holding the custard cups may be moved to within 6″ of the broiler. Watch closely, as sugar may rapidly burn.