Cardamom Orange Crème Brûlée
This cardamom orange crème brûlée has vanilla bean paste, orange zest, and a caramelized sugar top for a super easy, but elegant, dessert! This is one of my favorites to serve to a crowd or for a romantic dinner for two. Made from scratch in the oven, this recipe is also make-ahead and the perfect dessert for beginners. (Originally posted October 10, 2018).
Valentine’s Day is this week!! Marc and I usually don’t do much aside from eating dessert and drinking wine while watching New Girl for the millionth time. But, I’m always looking for an excuse to make a fancy dessert, because well, it’s me. My cheesecake red velvet trifles and mascarpone cheesecake are usual go-tos, but honestly, nothing beats a good French créme brûlée. And like, ok, I’m biased because it’s my favorite dessert. But honestly, once my mom taught me how to make a perfect créme brûlée, there was no going back. Let’s be real, nothing is better than custard with crunchy, caramelized topping.
Why you’ll love this recipe!
This recipe is somewhat based off of the crème brûlée that my mom made for my birthday when I was a kid. (Yes, I was a weird child and always wanted crème brûlée for my birthday “cake”). It has orange liqueur for a bitter, boozy element and a crisp, caramelized sugar top. I also added some cardamom and orange for a little warmth and citrusy flavor. Here’s why this recipe is the best!
- It looks fancy af and people will find you very impressive. (But, this recipe is actually super easy.)
- Orange and cardamom might be the best crème brûlée flavors.
- This dessert is romantic for at-home date nights, but it’s also lovely to serve to a crowd. It’s a dinner party go-to!
- The recipe is foolproof. Seriously, you can’t mess it up.
So what is crème brûlée?
If you’ve never tried crème brûlée before, I don’t even know what you’re doing in life. Jk, but seriously, you have to try it. Crème brûlée, sometimes known as burnt cream or Trinity cream, is a French custard-based dessert (think a super rich, thick pudding) that’s topped with caramelized sugar. The absolute joy of crème brûlée is breaking the caramelized lid with a spoon and taking that first bite of crunchy sugar and smooth, decadent custard.
Although crème brûlée, crema catalana, and caramel custard are all similar, they are not the same dessert. Crème brûlée is made with heavy cream, so it has a firm texture and crisp topping. Crema catalana is a similar Spanish dessert but it’s made with milk for a lighter custard and is usually flavored with lemon (or orange) and cinnamon. Caramel custard is more gelatinous and has liquid caramel poured over the top.
Ingredients + variations
- Egg yolks – these are a key ingredient in créme brûlée. It thickens the custard and makes it rich and decadent.
- Sugar – you’ll need sugar to sweeten the custard and caramelize on top.
- Heavy whipping cream – this is also a classic ingredient in crème brûlée. It makes for a super creamy, thick custard. While you can also use half-and-half or whole milk, it will not be as thick and rich as heavy cream.
- Oranges – we’ll use the peel to add a citrus flavor. If you can find them, blood oranges are absolutely delicious in this recipe! Or, switch it up with lemon peel instead.
- Vanilla bean paste – this is a paste made with vanilla bean seeds. It has the convenience (and affordability) of extract but has more vanilla flavor. Use extract if you don’t have paste!
- Orange liqueur – for a little bitterness and boozy flavor. I like Triple Sec but any orange liqueur will work. You can also try bourbon, rum, or amaretto!
- Cardamom – I highly recommend fresh cardamom for the best flavor, but pre-ground will work in a pinch. You can also use cinnamon!
How to make this recipe step-by-step
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Then, peel the orange and combine the peel with the cream in a small saucepan. Simmer for 2-3 minutes on the stove top and remove from heat. Cover and infuse for about 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Temper the eggs with a bit of cream, and then whisk in the remaining cream.
- Then, stir in the cardamom, orange liqueur, and vanilla bean paste.
- Divide the custard between the ramekins. Place on a sheet pan and pour boiling water in the pan around the ramekins to create a water bath. Bake until the créme brûlée is set, but still a bit jiggly. Cool completely.
- Once the créme brûlée is cooled, sprinkle with sugar. Use a torch (or broiler) to caramelize.
- Serve with whipped cream and berries. Enjoy!
The secrets to the best créme brûlée
Créme brûlée is super easy to make (honestly, I think it’s even easier than baking a cake) but there are a few tricks to make sure it comes out great every time.
- Scald the milk – this supposedly breaks down the proteins in the milk to make the custard nice and smooth. It will also allow us to infuse it with citrus flavor without the texture of orange zest.
- Whip the eggs & sugar – you need to whisk the yolks and sugar for a few minutes to add air, dissolve the sugar, and thicken the yolks. This will make for smooth, thick custard.
- Use a water bath – this is one of the most important steps! Using a water bath will protect the créme brûlée from direct heat, making for a more even bake. Skipping this step may lead to sweet scrambled eggs instead of custard.
There are so many ways to eat créme brûlée! You can serve this for two, for a crowd, and for the holidays. This is one of my favorite desserts for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Easter, or even Mother’s Day. It’s usually served cold with a freshly caramelized topping. Here are a few ways to eat créme brûlée:
- Fruit – my favorite is strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries.
- Whipped cream – I like adding a pinch of cardamom for extra spice!
- Ice cream – a scoop of vanilla ice cream is absolutely delicous.
Créme brûlée is best when eaten right away, but you can save it for later too. If you expect to have leftovers, don’t add the caramelized top! Just cover the individual ramekins with plastic wrap, and gently press the wrap to the tops of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. The non-caramelized custard will last in the fridge for 2-3 days. Then, when you’re ready to serve, add the sugar, caramelize, and enjoy! I don’t recommend storing this spiced créme brûlée with the sugar topping. If you refrigerate the caramelized sugar, it will melt in the fridge.
Can this recipe be frozen?
While créme brûlée can technically be frozen for around 1 month, I would personally not recommend it. Freezing dairy products affects the overall flavor and texture. Plus, créme brûlée is simple enough that you can just make it 2-3 days in advance and add the caramelized topping right before you serve!
- Use room-temperature eggs. This will prevent the eggs from scrambling when you add the hot cream!
- You want to mix everything thoroughly, but don’t overly-whisk. The mixture will have small bubbles but should not have too much air.
- Use shallow crème brûlée ramekins rather than the deeper ones. Deeper ramekins lead to uneven cooking.
- Place the ramekins on the sheet pan in the oven, and then add the hot water with a kettle. Placing a sheet pan filled with hot water in the oven is a bit scary.
- Remove each ramekin from the oven using a large spatula. Then, you don’t have to remove a pan full of boiling water from the oven.
What sugar is best for this recipe?
I use regular, organic granulated cane sugar for both the custard and topping. But, superfine sugar will make for a more even caramelization. If you have superfine sugar (or want to buy some), I would use it for the topping. But if you don’t have it, regular granulated is fine too.
Can I make this recipe without a torch?
Yes! My mom actually never used a torch until I got her one a few years ago. To make this recipe without a torch, place an oven rack as close to the top of your oven as possible. Broil the sugar for 5-10 minutes, occasionally rotating the pan, until the sugar is evenly melted and caramelized. Don’t overcook or it will affect the texture of the custard.
How do I know when it’s done?
The créme brûlée is done when it’s set but still a bit jiggly. Kind of like Jello or a thick pudding! It should not be liquid-y at all. The custard should never boil, bubble up, or brown.
Why are there small bubbles on the custard?
After mixing and pouring the custard into ramekins, you may notice some small air bubbles. This is totally normal, I usually don’t worry about it or even notice them. But, if you want the smoothest filling possible, just mix them in gently with a spoon or skim them off of the top.
More romantic desserts
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Cardamom Orange Crème Brûlée
- 1 large orange
- 1 pt heavy whipping cream
- 5 egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 cup white sugar, divided
- 1/2 tsp freshly-ground cardamom
- 2 tbsp orange liqueur
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 2 tsp. vanilla extract)
- Whipped cream and berries, for serving (optional)
- 6 ramekins
- Cooking torch (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Then, start boiling a large kettle (or pot) of water.
- Peel the orange with a vegetable peeler, avoiding the bitter pith as much as possible. Place the orange peels in a pot, and add the heavy whipping cream. Simmer over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a simmer. Gently simmer for 2 minutes and remove from the heat. Cover with a lid and infuse for 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and 1/3 cup of the sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
- Once the cream is infused, remove the orange peels from the heavy cream with the tines of a fork, and discard. While whisking vigorously, pour about a 1/2 cup of the orange-cream to the egg mixture to temper the eggs. Once tempered, slowly whisk in the remaining orange-cream until combined. Add the cardamom, orange liqueur, and vanilla bean paste (or extract).
- Then, divide the custard evenly between six ramekins. Place the ramekins in a 9×13 cake pan or on a deep baking sheet. Place in the pre-heated oven and immediately pour the boiling water in the pan/baking sheet around the ramekins to create a water bath. Avoid pouring any water inside the actual crème brûlée! You will want the water to come about halfway up the ramekins.
- Bake, checking for doneness around 30-40 minutes. The crème brûlée is done when it's set but still a bit jiggly. Do not let the custard boil or brown! When they are finished baking, remove the crème brûlées from the oven by sliding a large spatula under each ramekin. Let them cool at room-temperature for about 1 hour, and then refrigerate for at least one hour to chill.
- Right before serving, sprinkle each custard with about 1-2 Tablespoons of the remaining sugar. Using a torch, caramelize the sugar until it's melted and golden-brown with some darker spots (I personally like mine extra caramelized).
- Serve immediately with whipped cream and berries, if desired. Enjoy!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day – I’m Just Snacking by Gus Dapperton