Why You Should Should Think Twice Before Broiling Crème Brûlée

Few desserts are as satisfying as crème brûlée. Rich, dense custard with the perfect silky texture, the zing of some fresh berries on the side, and oh, cracking through that caramelized crunchy sugar on top ... it's all divine. And the basic recipe isn't terribly difficult. How such modest, ordinary ingredients like eggs, sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla can be combined into such an elevated dessert almost seems like it should require a little sorcery.

Making crème brûlée may be a bit of a labor of love, but it also lets you use fancy cooking terms like "bain marie," which Professional Secrets declares is essential for baking your custard. Once you've made and baked your custard, making sure your bain marie is the proper temperature, of course, the ramekins are chilled before the finishing touch that puts the crunchy layer of browned sugar atop your dessert. 

But is there one best way to achieve the perfect topping for your crème brûlée? Indeed, there is. Though some recipes indicate that the topping can be browned under the oven broiler, there's a better method.

A torch is better for caramelizing the sugar

Bon Appétit doesn't mince words on this question, explaining, "Yes, you absolutely need a kitchen torch for this task." While some cooks use the oven broiler to caramelize the sugar on top of crème brûlée, there are good reasons not to. First, it's easy for food placed under a hot broiler to burn in mere seconds. It doesn't take long for sugar under the broiler to go from perfectly browned to blackened and burned. In addition, the broiler isn't likely to give you the evenly browned results that a torch will.

Also, one of the delights of eating crème brûlée is the contrast between the chilled creamy custard and the crunchy, caramelized sugar topping. Putting your ramekins into a hot oven to brown the sugar will heat the entire dessert up, while using a torch lets you direct the heat to just the thin top layer of sugar. And a final reason to avoid the broiler is just for fun. Using a torch to caramelize your crème brûlée topping will wow your guests, particularly if you've made this inspired dessert that's infused with bay leaves.