Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)


Even though most people consider crème brûlée (or burnt cream) a typically French dessert, British sources often cite Trinity College, Cambridge, as the place where it first appeared at the end of the XIXth century. The famous British food writer, Jane Grigson, says (in her excellent English Food) she has come across burnt cream recipes in several ancient English cookery books, some dating back to the XVIIth century. The French claim to be the inventors and also cite a XVIIth century (1691) book “Le Cuisinier royal et bourgeois” by François Massialot as the first occurrence of crème brûlée. The doubt of the origins will probably always haunt both sides of the Channel, but whatever the origins, crème brûlée or burnt cream is an invention of a genius.

The recipe I share with you is the very first I used and certainly the last one, not because it is lighter (half milk, half cream), but because it produces the best crème brûlée I know. I found it in “Le Grand Livre de Cuisine d’Alain Ducasse: Bistrots, Brasseries et Restaurants de Tradition” written by one of the most renowned French chefs, who is also among the three most Michelin-starred in the world. Alain Ducasse is not any diet guru, the book has got nothing to do with any weight loss plans (see the title of his book!) and the recipe wasn’t labelled as lightened. It is simply excellent, elegantly fresh and as such didn’t need any explanations. The addition of milk also illustrates the way the traditional cuisine has been changing in hands of modern French chefs and confectioners, following the way our lifestyles and nutritious needs change, but wisely, i.e. without any taste compromise.

I have already posted this recipe a long time ago, but I thought it merits to be mentioned again, especially since now I know I’m not the only one blogger who looks for lighter desserts and also because some of my friends have recently been trying to lighten their eating habits 😉

If you feel like playing with this classic dessert, I strongly recommend this refreshing and amazing matcha crème brûlée, my second favourite:


TIPS: Blowtorch is a very good investment since, at least from my experience, it’s impossible to obtain the contrasting textures and temperatures crème brûlée is famous for with an oven broiler (the cream warms up). You can use blowtorch on many other custardy desserts and sweet tarts.

Click here for a few ideas of how to use up the leftover egg whites.

If you don’t have brown cane sugar, you can use caster sugar to burn, but the taste is worse.

If you want to prepare a smaller batch (serving max. 4 people), divide the below amounts by two, but use 5 egg yolks.

If you travel to France and order burnt cream in an unknown restaurant, I would strongly advise asking if it’s burnt just before being served. I had several times an unpleasant surprise of soggy caramel and a uniform temperature in restaurants where the cream is burnt before the opening hours and sits for several hours in the fridge.

Special equipment: a blowtorch

Preparation: around 2 hours+a couple of hours in the fridge

Calories (the whole batch, made with skimmed milk, 25% fat cream and including the burnt sugar): about 3200 kcal

Ingredients (serves six – eight, depending on the size of the baking dishes; if you use the ones I did (8-9 cm diameter) you will obtain eight portions):

9 egg yolks

500 ml/17 oz milk

500 ml/17 oz liquid cream (min. 20% fat, without any thickeners)

4 vanilla pods

9 slightly heaped tablespoons caster sugar

about100 g/about 1/2 cup cane sugar (but not the moist one!)

Cut the vanilla pods lengthwise in two.

Put into a saucepan with milk and cream. Bring to the boil, put aside for 30 minutes.

Strain it. Scrape off the vanilla seeds and blend with milk and cream. The seeds are not necessary, but I think the cream looks nicer with small black spots.

Preheat the oven at 100°C.

Mix the yolks with sugar in a big bowl. Pour the warm (not hot!) milk with cream over it and mix again.

Pour the mixture into burnt cream dishes or other small individual ramekins.

Bake it for approximately 45 minutes. (The custards are ready when only their centres are slightly trembling when moved).

Take out the creams and let them cool down. Put into the fridge for several hours.

Just before serving, take the creams out of the fridge and pat dry with paper towel (there will be some water drops on top and it will make the burning difficult).

Sprinkle with dark cane sugar and caramelise it with a special blowtorch.

Serve immediately while the top is still warm and crunchy and the cream below is very cold.

33 Replies to “Light Crème Brûlée (Light Burnt Cream)”

  1. Fun learning about the British roots of crème brûlée – we are big fans and typically make the lovely dessert during the Christmas holidays (we all fight over who gets to torch the sucker! ;-)). Like your delicious matcha version, we enjoy changing things up with different flavors, liqueurs, etc. for a different taste sensation each time; so yummy! I’ll have to double check my base recipe as I’m trying to figure out how Ducasse’s version is light (LOL). Have a great weekend Sissi!

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. Matcha is really fantastic, but strangely doesn’t taste great just after few hours. It tastes best after at least 12 hours in the fridge and improves after 24.
      By lighter crème I meant half milk and half cream (I should have precised it in the text not only in the ingredients’ list, I have just updated the text). A huge majority of recipes (also on blogs) are 100% cream. Since people often use 36% fat whipping cream this recipe (I make it with 25% fat cream and skimmed milk) is really much much lighter, but still delicious. Have a lovely weekend too!

  2. Hi Sissi, I have a similar recipe that doesn’t cook the yolks which works 100% of the time. I bake my version in a bain-marie in the oven. I used to have to ask my husband to torch the tops with his plumbing torch, which did it in seconds, but then I broke down and invested in a kitchen torch. Some butane candle lighters are also hot enough to melt the tops (sometimes I’m too lazy to bring out the mini-torch).
    It’s finally looking a bit more like spring in Toronto, trees are sprouting leaves and some bulbs are out. I’m hoping the weekend will be lovely and warm.

    1. Thank you, Eva. Yes, I have noticed that in English-speaking countries the cream is thickened first on the stove, but I have never seen such a recipe in French sources. This one is special because of the milk’s presence only.
      I wouldn’t bother with bain marie. It hasn’t been mentioned in the recipe even (I do prepare some other creams in water bath though) and since I have an oven quite high, I’m glad I don’t have to play with hot water this time 🙂
      Here we also have a lovely spring weather finally (I already have some 2 cm herbs on the balcony!). I have been ill this week so today is the very first day I can enjoy it.

      1. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been I’ll, I do hope for a speedy recovery so you can truly enjoy the beauty of spring. I envy your herbs, we can’t plant outdoors until May 24rth for fear of frost!

        1. Thank you so much, Eva. I feel better now, but the runny nose makes me go crazy. This winter was particularly long, so some of my plants haven’t even sprouted, so I think I might have made a mistake freezing poor seeds to death 😉 I will replant some herbs today…

  3. Beautiful crème brulee indeed and the lighter version means you CAN have something that luxurious and not suffer too much from the extra calories.

    1. Thank you so much, A_Boleyn. I am always thrilled when a lighter recipe tastes equally good, but if it’s even better… then I’m in heaven.

  4. I agree with you Sissi. I always try to tweak my sweet recipes to make them lighter and with less calories. Weight has started to be an issue. I love your creme brulee and I prefer this lighter version than the full fat one!

    1. Thank you very much, Katerina. We are no longer twenty, aren’t we 😉 ? This crème brûlée is so good, no guest or family member will feel the difference (at least it was my experience). It’s more delicate so actually one becomes used to the delicate and light version.

  5. And here I always thought this was a French thing. Thanks for a little culinary history! Bobby and I love brulee and it’s really the only dessert we ever order when we eat out. If it’s on the menu – we order it. I’ve tried making it a once at home, but without great success. When it came to browning the sugar, I used one of the torches that came in a brulee kit. What waste of effort! Bobby finally got frustrated and went to the garage and got the blowtorch. MUCH better! 🙂 However, the brulee just didn’t have the right texture. I’d love to try it again, so thank you for this lighter version. It’s SO worth giving another try! Have a marvelous weekend my friend!

    1. Thanks a lot, MJ. Well, we still don’t know if it’s French or British…
      It’s actually one of two only desserts I ever consider ordering in restaurants (along with chocolate mousse), but now, since I got so used to this lighter version, I no longer enjoy crème brûlée in restaurants so much (most restaurants prepare it with fatty cream only).
      I hope you will try making it once more. I will be more than happy to help and advise! You know, I have always considered it one of the easiest baked desserts I know! I have never failed it and I have made dozens of batches.
      I suppose the good recipe is the secret (Alain Ducasse, contrary to other famous chefs, has very well explained and foolproof recipes; many chefs hide tips or don’t bother even to reread the recipes, thinking people will only look at photos… Everything I have tested from his book was a huge success, even tricky, difficult dishes). Anyway, I think the good instructions and good baking time are the secret. I must say I have a tiny, cheap torch (though not the cheapest: the previous, cheaper one simply melted during one of the burning sessions!) and it has worked perfectly for the last 5 years I think. Please let me know if you have any questions or doubts or if you need help.

      1. Thanks Sissi! I will consult you went I attempt this recipe. Talk about having your man fall in love with you all over again – pulled a batch of Creme Brulee from the oven. 🙂 You made an interesting comment about recipe writing and how chefs (and cooks alike) think that people just look at the pictures so they slack off on writing their recipes correctly. I have noticed that as well. That’s fine I guess for experienced cooks, but for new cooks or people like my sister-in-law who follows every recipe exactly as written, it could be disastrous, and in some cases, having eaten her food- it is! Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend!

  6. What a fabulously light creme brulee! I always order creme brulee when I see it on a menu at a restaurant. Without a doubt, one of my favorite desserts! Looks great Sissi!

  7. I love creme brulee and to me your lighter version will be equally loved. This is one of those decadent dishes that I would describe as sinfully and heavenly good! In no particular order of course. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Ray. I am glad you like this lighter idea and I hope you will try it one day.

  8. Hi Sissi, you did give me a chuckle:

    “she has come across burnt cream recipes in several ancient English cookery books”

    I was going to make a quip about the only reason it may be that the English think they discovered it so long ago was because they were such terrible cooks, churning out non-stop fruit cakes, fruit pies and endless amounts of boiled meats, so burning something and finding it tasted not bad probably happened completely by accident, but that was purely an attempt at humour :).

    I never tried making creme brulée before… or did I? I have memories of browning something under the grill because I have no blowtorch… not sure if it was this though (by the way, the grill doesn’t work very well. It has to be really hot, and even then isn’t super efficient).

    I like the idea of a lighter creme brulée, but I do think such a tasty dessert should be enjoyed in small quantities, and then it’s not so “serious” if one is eating the full-fat version. I went some place once and got served an enormous one. The plate must have been a full 20cm in diameter, with a creme inside about 2.5cm deep!!

    1. Charles, I sincerely never regret the fatter crème brûlée. I love its taste and texture and because it lacks the fatty heavy side of the traditional crème brûlée (although I admit I feel better afterwards with a bit less kcal and fat 😉 ). Even the Ducasse’s version is not a light dessert really, so I do care about small portions. (Most “old-fashioned restaurants serve such a huge crème brûlée as you mention. I cannot even imagine how many calories it has… I have always ordered such big ones with someone else to share).
      I wonder why this oven grill method is advised everywhere! I have never heard of anyone who has obtained a good result this way. Grilling in the oven never works (from my experience), at least with my ovens which have always had a very good grill. The grill heats the dish too much, so you end up with a warm dessert and if you wait for it to cool down, the burnt sugar softens…. My blowtorch costs I think only about 15 euros, so even if I made crème brûlée twice a year, it would be worth the price, but of course I use it more often 🙂
      Aren’t you too harsh with the British cuisine? 😉

  9. Thanks Sissi, I learnt something new today. While I love this dessert, I didn’t even know what it really meant. Burnt cream!? I thought ‘brûlée’ meant caramel because I tasted caramel flavour. 🙂 How ignorant of me!

    1. Sue, I have no idea what all the Korean dish names mean 😉 (Not to mention the pronunciation!).

  10. This looks so inviting and delicious – and I agree about the blowtorch, because it’s the only way to get that super crunchy topping without warming up the custard too much!

  11. Your Creme Brulee looks fantastic. and the Matcha version sounds just as delicious. I agree, the blow torch is nice to have around the kitchen.

    Wait, I’m surprised the restaurants would serve soggy caramel on top! That’s just not right. I usually make creme brulee for gatherings and let my guests do the torching. They had fun and for sure to get those nice and crispy burnt sugar on top!

    1. Thank you so much, Amy. You know, even in France some restaurants are bad 😉 Burning one’s own cream sounds like an excellent idea for guests.

  12. Oh Sissi, this is one of my favorite dessert…and love the idea of being light…this way I can have an extra serving. The matcha one looks great too!
    Have a lovely week my dear 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot, Juliana. This way I can “afford” crème brûlée more often 🙂 Have a lovely week too.

  13. Light creme brulee! That means we’re allowed to eat two, instead of one, right? 😀 Your top picture shows perfect color on top. I have 5 egg whites waiting in the fridge. If it was an opposite situation I’d totally make this right now. YUM!

    1. Haha! I prefer to say I have it more often and with less guilt than a traditional one. Frankly, the difference is not negative (at least for me) and the advantages huge. Thank you so much for the kind compliment. I thought the photo was sad and had nothing to do with the crème brûlée “spirit”.
      You know what I would make with the whites… coconut cookies 😉 This is always the same pattern: crème brûlée and coconut cookies the following day.

  14. Light Crème Brulee?…not in my culinary dictionary, Sissi! Crème Brulee is not the same unless its made with lots of egg yolks and heavy cream. Glad to see that you didn’t omit the egg yolks which does make it rich, and tasty. As for the creaminess, I don’t think I would omit the old fashioned way. I would only indulge eating a small portion of it…and always have! I like to share my Crème Brulee just as I always do with rich desserts…can only have a bite or two! I do love your ‘new’ method, and the recipe. I will probably feel less guilty making it lighter!

    1. Thanks a lot, Elisabeth. I think you wouldn’t even notice the difference… I didn’t when I prepared it first time and I had had dozens of crème brûlées before. I just thought it was excellent. Moreover, as I have mentioned, it’s not even my idea. I don’t take bigger portions of this but I know I can allow myself this crème a bit more often. I don’t have discipline to just take two bites of any dessert 😉 PS I would never omit egg yolks! I love eggs.

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