This Easy Crème Brûleé with Ginger is the answer to my prayers. I lost my blow torch years ago. Without it, I didn’t think I could get a lovely caramelized top on custard. Broiling was not an option because my ramekins won’t take direct heat. Plus, I have a rather bad record when it comes to fires.
I figured my crème brûleé days were over. But then, I found a Crème Brûleé recipe with a separately caramelized top that requires neither a blowtorch nor a broiler. Eureka! Well, not exactly, as it turns out that the specified proportions and method didn’t work – at least for me. But it was a start.
After a few more tries, I got it. And now, I’m a fan, not just of the caramelized top, but of the creme too. By the way, this makes a wonderful Valentine’s Day or other special occasion treat. Add a few berries on the side (I’m partial to raspberries and blackberries) and this dessert will be colorful, as well as impressive.
Growing up I wasn’t a fan of desserts with a pudding consistency, except for chocolate pudding. (My love for the chocolate flavoring won out over my preference for cakes and cookies.) After reaching adulthood, I discovered crème caramel and crème brûleé. Thanks to those two delightful French desserts I’m now a confirmed believer in non-chocolate, creamy concoctions. And this easy crème brûleé with ginger is the best of the best.
Types of Custard Desserts
Like its Hispanic relative the flan, French crème caramel is a custard with a soft caramel top. Crème brûleé has a hard shell of caramel on the top, typically made with a blow torch or by broiling a sugar coating after baking the custard underneath. If we’re doing a custard family tree, there is also pot de crème, but I digress. For more information check with my friend Jenni Field (PastryChefOnline); she has a great description of the differences among the traditional versions of these three French desserts.
This version of crème brûleé with ginger is not as heavy as Jenni’s version because I use whole milk as well as heavy (whipping) cream. It also contains one of my all-time favorite sweets, candied or crystallized ginger. If you’re not a ginger lover, just leave it out (along with the small amount of flour that dusts it) or substitute another flavoring.
With a light caramel sauce it reminds me of flan, but unlike “normal” flan, the sauce is on the bottom, not drizzled over the custard. Topped with a crazy looking but tasty no-blowtorch, no-broiler caramel disk, this dessert is anything but traditional.
Easy Crème Brûleé with Ginger Tips
- Making the sugar top. Be patient with the sugar water. Let it bubble and do not stir it, no matter how great the temptation. When dribbling the caramelized sugar onto the foil and in the bottom of the ramekins, don’t worry if your circles are not perfect.
- The crème. While the top is sweet, the creamy part underneath is rich. Do not be concerned that the recipe yields portions that are only about 4 ounces per ramekin. That will be plenty. By the way, the technique of cooking a custard in water is called a “bain marie.” This explanation is worthwhile if you want more information on how to make a bain marie and use this technique for cooking custards slowly and evenly.
- Serving temperature and food safety. You can make this dessert ahead of time. Still, keep in mind food safety – the crème contains egg yolks and dairy. It is, after all, a custard. Therefore, you should refrigerate the ramekins if the crème is done more than 2 hours before you will serve it. However, you also want to let the ramekins come up close to or at room temperature before serving, so take them out of the refrigerator about an hour before you will serve them. The sugar tops do not require refrigeration and you can put them on the ramekins at the last minute.
Easy Creme Brulee with Ginger
Caramel – for top and bottom of each ramekin
- 2/3 cup white (granulated) sugar 130 g/4.6 oz
- 1/3 cup water 79 ml/3.3 oz
- 1 tablespoon flavorless oil (canola, avocado or similar)
- 4 egg yolks Save the egg whites for another use. Meringues perhaps? (See note)
- 9 & 1/3 teaspoons white (granulated) sugar = 3 tablespoons + 1/3 teaspoon 40 g/1.4 oz
- 2/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk 237 ml/8 fl. oz
- 1 cup heavy (whipping) cream 237 ml/8 fl. oz.
- 1 & 1/4 tablespoons candied or crystallized ginger, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon flour (just enough to barely coat the chopped ginger)
- 1 large pinch kosher salt
Making the sugar tops
Cover the cookie sheet with foil. Put down one ramekin upside down and lightly outline it with a pen or pencil. Repeat three times more, so you have 4 circles. Brush the circles with oil, preferably with a brush or the back of a spoon if you don’t have a pastry brush.
Put the sugar and water in the small pot and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat. You can stir the sugar to dissolve it in the water before the mixture boils, but once they gets near a boil – and for the duration – don’t stir the mixture. (Stirring would break up the bubbles and prevent caramelization.) Keeping a watchful eye on the mixture, let it boil for about 8-10 minutes until it turns golden yellow brown. Don’t let the caramel get too dark. That can happen quickly, resulting in a sticky mess that is inedible and difficult to clean. For cleaning tips, see notes below.
Once the sugar syrup turns golden, carefully and quickly pour half of the mixture onto the 4 circles and the other half into the ramekins. The circles will harden as they cool. Don’t be obsessive about getting the circles perfect – I couldn’t and the crispy caramel disc will sit on top of the ramekin even if it isn’t round. Safety note: hot caramel can burn you easily, so be careful. Also, the sugar syrup at the bottom of the ramekins will liquify as it cooks, so try to get it spread over the bottom, but do not be too obsessive about that either. If you feel the need to spread it out after it hardens on the bottom, heating the ramekins gently allows you to spread it a bit.
Making the crème
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Dust the chopped ginger with the flour and set aside.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt in the medium bowl.
Heat the milk and cream until almost simmering, then add the chopped and floured pieces of ginger. If skin develops on top, just whisk the mixture vigorously until it breaks up.
Pour the heated milk and cream into the egg mixture, whisking all the while.
Place the ramekins in the larger pan and pour the mixture into the ramekins (which already have a thin layer of caramel on the bottom.) Put water in the pan until it is about halfway up the outer sides of the ramekins. Be careful not to let the water splash. I used a measuring cup, aiming the water into the corner of the pan, away from the ramekins.
Bake the custards for 45-50 minutes, until they are set but still slightly jiggly. Some may get slightly browned on top, which is fine as long as they do not get burned. If you prefer a pristine top, cover the custards for the first 20-25 minutes of baking with waxed paper topped with aluminum foil.
Once you take them out of the oven, cool the ramekins for 30 minutes in the water-filled pan, then refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.
Serving the Crème Brûleé
Let the crème brûleé stand at room temperature for at about an hour before serving. Gently pry the caramel circles off the foil and place one on top of each ramekin, then enjoy. The tops will crack like shards of glass when you cut through them with a spoon. Although the edges may look sharp, the shards disintegrate as you eat them.
- I generally make meringues with the egg whites. But if I’m not going to make them in the next 24 hours, I usually freeze the egg whites in clean ice cube trays, then bring them up to room temperature to use them.
- The easiest way to clean the pot after making the sugar syrup is to heat water and detergent in it, then let it cool until you can easily wipe it out with a sponge or a scrubber.
This post was originally published several years ago. I have updated it with new photos and revised text.