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Whenever I try to melt the sugar on top of a creme brulee with my kitchen blow torch, I find that the sugar takes forever to discolour even slightly, let alone melt. Eventually isolated patches of sugar start to burn. At this point I usually stop as I don't want to eat burnt sugar.

I hold the torch so the flame ends just above the sugar, and I move the flame around constantly.

What I end up with is sugar that isn't totally melted into a nice layer, but is still granular but somewhat stuck together. The texture isn't right at all - I want that smooth layer of sugar.

What am I doing wrong?

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I thought that this is expected - when I have had creme brulee or creme catalana in restaurants, the caramel layer was always slightly gritty. This is what makes the difference between creme brulee and creme caramel for me - the caramel melted on even heat before the custard is added has exactly the smooth quality you describe, which creme brulee doesn't. But I am interested in seeing the answers - maybe I have only been to bad restaurants. – rumtscho Aug 6 '12 at 12:36
What kind of torch are you using? Is it one of those tiny butane micro-torches? – Aaronut Aug 6 '12 at 14:43
@Aaronut:- This isn't exactly the torch I have, but it's roughly the same size: – Nicholas Aug 6 '12 at 14:47
I'm not sure if this justifies another answer being posted, but FWIW, I've never had much luck doing making actual crème brûlée with a "crème brûlée torch". It's far easier (not to mention faster) to do with a half-decent propane torch. To boot, they're usually less expensive than the torches marketed in kitchen stores. – Aaronut Aug 6 '12 at 15:01
Never had much luck with those types of torches. Go buy yourself a torch with a flexible hose that attaches to the propane bottle and seperate hand unit-plumbers carry them on their belts. It allows you to keep the bottle upright but the hose lets you twist and turn the flame as you like without hassle. Also, not too much sugar on top. I like to cover the top and pour excess off then add a 1/4 tsp back again. You get a coating of sugar everywhere and the extra bit will melt fast so you can then let it flow around the top to even things up. – Chef Flambe Aug 10 '12 at 22:04
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The technique for creating a proper layer of melted sugar on your creme brulee involves three important elements:

  1. After you add the sugar, gently swirl the ramekin to create smooth layer of sugar. You don't want it too clump or be uneven.
  2. Gently 'kiss' the sugar with the tip of the flame, moving the flame around to heat evenly, just until the sugar starts to flow.
  3. Hold and rotate the ramekin to cause the melting sugar to flow around the cup and form an even layer.

Your goal is to distribute the heat, and sugar, evenly and smoothly around the top of your custard.

The technique to use is easier to pick this up by seeing it rather than reading about it. Alton Brown did a segment on Creme Brulee on Good Eats where he demonstrates the technique.

(if the link fails, you can Google "Alton Brown Creme Brulee on You Tube")

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A few tips follow that may apply in your case:

  • Before baking the brulees, use the torch on any bubbles formed in the liquid custard so that uneven patches don't become baked-in.
  • Use fine grained (caster) sugar so that any unmelted crystals will be less noticeable.
  • Swirl the sugar around in the ramekin and then get rid of excess sugar by tossing it onto a tray. This way you only have a very thin layer of sugar crystals to melt.
  • Brown the sugar in two passes of the flame to avoid overcooking the top of the custard. The first pass should only melt the sugar, brown it on the second pass.
  • Use the tip of the light blue part of the flame for browning (at least this is the case when you are using the smaller brulee torch). Sweep back and forth as if mowing a lawn.
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Use powdered sugar/ icing sugar dust lightly using a sieve and build layers of golden crunchy caramel

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