One could easily argue that even though they have many similarities, crème brûlée is, in several ways, the opposite of crème caramel. These small cholesterol bombs use all heavy cream and additional egg yolks (as opposed to milk and whole eggs in the other); the sugar goes on the top instead of the bottom; and the sugar is caramelized after the custards are baked—unlike crème caramel, where the sugar is caramelized first, then poured on the bottom of the molds before the custard is added and the desserts are baked. Finally, crème brûlée is served in its baking dish, while crème caramel is unmolded onto a serving plate.
This rich, smooth-textured dessert is known as Burnt Cream in England, where it has been popular since the seventeenth century. It was not, however, until late in the nineteenth century that the French term crème brûlée, which means precisely the same thing, became popular and the dessert became standard fare in many American restaurants.
The richness of the custard lends itself extremely well to being paired with fresh fruit, either as part of the presentation, as a flavoring for the custard itself, or as a container for the custard. In some variations, the custard is cooked on the stovetop instead of being thickened the traditional way by baking in a water bath. This method is particularly useful when the custard is presented in a hollowed-out fruit shell.
The caramelized sugar crust on a fine crème brûlée should be thin and crisp, so the spoon can go right through. Too much sugar on top will make the crust too hard. If made ahead, the crust will melt, so it should be caramelized to order.
© 1989 All rights reserved. Published by Wiley.