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I've always wanted to make a Crème brûlée but I don't have a blow torch to burn the top with. Is there anything else I can use to get that nice crunchy caramel on top?

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8 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Follow these steps and watch very carefully...

  • Set your oven on Broil (high) and put your rack on the top shelf.
  • Let the oven get nice and hot (3-7 minutes).
  • Fill an oven safe dish with crushed ice and water and place your dishes into the ice/water bath.
  • The cold bath should keep the custard from cooking, but the sugar on top will heat till it caramelizes.
  • It'll only take 3-4mins.
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hadn't thought of the water bath ... that's a great idea. (but be careful with ceramics (glass/stone/etc) going straight from the oven into ice water -- they might shatter from the temperature change if they change temperature too quickly). –  Joe Jul 11 '10 at 14:41
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Broil (American) == Grill (Australia; UK) –  Joe Sep 12 '10 at 15:29
    
I've used this method and it works wonderfully. It appeared in a cordon blue[sp?] book. Follow your oven's instructions, but usually you should keep your oven door partially open during broil/grill operation, since it works using IR radiation and not diffusion, this will also prevent the creme from starting to cook (if you don't use the cold bath), and work only on the sugar layer. –  SurDin Jul 31 '11 at 8:17
    
This is actually the more traditional method of preparing Crème brûlée in my experience. Blow torches are for enthusiasts :) –  rumtscho Mar 1 '13 at 10:43
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The old fashioned way was with an iron (not like today's steam iron -- a heavy chunk of metal at the end of a handle) you'd heat it up, and press it against the sugar to cook it. Of course this typically means having a chunk of metal that's just slightly smaller than your container.

Some of the high-pressure torch style lighters might also work or you can try putting it under the broiler, but I'd really suggest picking up a propane torch if you're interested in creme brulee.

Don't go to a kitchen store, as they're vastly overpriced -- get one from a hardware store. They're maybe $15 or so, and they have a number of uses -- I've soldered pipes, used it to light the grill and even used it for gardening (you know that weed block fabric? You can burn holes in it where you want to plant, which saves a lot of time over cutting).

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An old spoon works a treat as the sort of "iron" you're talking about: you can heat the bowl on a gas stove, and then press it against the sugar in patches. Caveat: don't do this to a spoon you're not willing to convert permanently to a creme brulee iron! –  Aant Jul 14 '10 at 13:59
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Here's what we did exactly once but it worked for us:

  • Cut a area out of foil the exact size that you want the topping to be
  • Spray one side with non-stick cooking spray
  • Mix some of the sugar topping and put it on the foil
  • Put the foil+topping on a cookie sheet and broil. Watch them closely -- this doesn't take long.

Bonus for our situation: this was for an event the next day at work. By pre-making the delicate little topping disks, they could be kept separate from the custard until the last moment. This meant the sugar didn't get soggy or broken for anyone. It also meant that only this tiny package could be handled with care while the rest of the stuff could be handled normally.

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I don't know what you mean by "mix some of the sugar topping", but I tried this with plain sugar on aluminium foil and the same with butter, but in both cases the caramel ended up in drops, no layer. You'd have to use lots and lots of sugar to get a layer: it would have to be way too thick? –  Cerberus Mar 4 '13 at 3:04
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In theory you could place the Crème brûlée under a very hot grill for a few seconds, but you are in danger of killing the custard too. Personally, if this is something you anticipate doing frequently, buy a torch. You don't need to spend load on a specialised kitchen torch, just go to your local DIY and get a standard propane plumbers torch.

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may have already been said but you can use the oven top shelf if it's turned onto the grill. When i worked in a restaurant we used to use the combi oven, which had the pull down grill to heat the top of creme brulee :) Hope you get it done :) xxxxx

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It's actually the top answer, but it was written as 'broil' not 'grill'. I've added a comment that hopefully will clarify things for the non-Americans. You may also want to see : cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/784/… –  Joe Sep 12 '10 at 15:30
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Easy:- mix the sugar with a bit of Vodka and spread over the brule. Light with a match or lighter and see the sugar caramelize as if by magic.

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Would other spirits work? –  J.A.I.L. Mar 1 '13 at 10:59
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You can use an electric stove that has a broil function. Put the rack on the top slot, turn on the broiler, wait until it is red hot and then add the cups of crème brûlée right under the element until you have a golden crust.

The crust will be thicker than if you used a torch. Nonetheless, i find the result perfectly fine.

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Just put sugar in a pan, and let it melt; then, pour it over the creme and refrigerate it so it hardens.

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I fear that would not give the proper texture for the crème brûlée top. –  nico Jul 31 '11 at 13:46
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