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As some of you may have noticed, I'm on the trails of making perfect good creme brulee.

Recently I've had great success and ended up with creme brulee of nice consistency... however there the top layer seems to be thicker and harder than the rest.

Allow me to elaborate:
After taking the creme out of the oven and allowing it to set in a fridge and before melting sugar on top I find that the top layer of my creme (about a cm's width) is hard and if I press on it it "breaks" almost like it froze on the top like surface water freezes into ice.
Below that layer the creme is like caramel, it's not hard at all and the "hardness" of this top layer is not caused by the low temperature of the fridge (I think).

Could this be because I bake my creme in a bain marie / water bath in an oven with both the top and bottom element on (i.e. the ramkins are getting heat from the top and bottom/sides)?

My recipe:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 250ml whipping cream
  • 70ml plain white granulated refined sugar (should be the same kind people put in everything)

I put the yolks, cream and sugar in the mixer bowl. Let the mixer mix them for a couple of minutes, pour into ramekins. Put the ramekins in a deep pan. Fill the pan with water so that the water covers the ramekins about halfway. Watch that no water gets in the ramekins. Turn the oven on. Put a thermometer in the water. When the water gets to ~85 degrees Celsius, leave it like that for a while. Turn oven off, let cool.

After all that the custard is still "soft". It continues to be soft after cooled to a little warmer than room temperature. Only after left alone for an hour or two does it develop this "crust".

UPDATE:
I just made Creme Brulee with only the bottom heating element turned on - same thing happened.
I should mention this happens only after the cremes are cooled - when taking them straight out of the oven there is no harder upper layer. Could it be that, akin to pudding, it dries up if you do not cover it in plastic wrap? This does not happen with crem caramel (a close relative of creme brulee).

Maybe I should mention I am cooking them for longer at a lower temperature than most recipes? But please don't jump to conclusions that this is the reason if you do not have some solid reason of thinking so.

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    My guess would be that its a result of the top element being on and the custards receiving direct heat on top. Try turning the top element off, or if you can't do that try covering the tops of the custard (loosely) with aluminium foil. – senschen Sep 13 '17 at 11:26
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    @mathgenius - that's a list of ingredients. The full recipe would include steps for preparation and how you're baking it. Also, 70 mL sugar? That would depend on what kind of sugar you had, for example. – Batman Sep 15 '17 at 2:45
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    No, you still need more time (e.g. how long you're baking it). Look at well written recipes, such as this one from Mark Bittman or this one from Theromoworks/Cooks Illustrated for how to write your recipe. You haven't even said what temperature your oven is operating at or how many creme brulees you're making. Your recipe should be detailed enough that someone who has basic cooking skills can replicate your procedure (which can't be done from what you wrote). – Batman Sep 16 '17 at 0:22
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    Also, if you're going to temp something, make it the actual custard. The temp of the water is relatively useless (to first order, this is a function of your oven temperature and the initial temperature of the water); Cook's illustrated recommends starting your bath with boiling water. Other sources may say cold. This should be a part of your recipe though. I use hot water from the tap for my baths. – Batman Sep 16 '17 at 0:25
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    If you're just playing this recipe by ear, start by following an existing recipe (the Guardian recipe or Mark Bittman one linked prior are probably better starting points than the Thermoworks/Cooks Illustrated one since the Thermoworks one requires you to have a Cooks Illustrated book) and then tweak it. This is also a good example on how to write a recipe. – Batman Sep 16 '17 at 0:39
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I had this happen to me - it's because fat gathers on the top of the creme.

After heating the creme, for some reason, fat/oils gather at the top of the creme and when cooled become the hard layer you have described. It's just what normally happens to fat when you cool it down - it gets hard.

You can try stirring your creme before letting it cool down completely, unfortunately I do not know why this happens or how to fix it, otherwise.

EDIT: Apparently, as @mathgenius pointed out, this happens if you use vegetable oil based cream. He reported that when using animal far cream the problem was fixed.

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    I recently found out in my case it was happening because I was using plant fat cream with low fat content. Once I switched to animal fat 35% cream - everything was OK. – mathgenius Nov 9 '17 at 20:03
  • @mathgenius, thanks, I will edit my answer to provide that information – J. Doe Nov 10 '17 at 11:13

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