It is one of the most popular dessert items on our menu; a quintessential French classic that oozes luxury, decadence and flavour. But have you ever wondered where this marvellous pudding began?

With a name meaning “burnt cream”, due to the caramelised sugar coating, in French, the Crème brûlée is a creamy, baked, custard-based dessert that is famous all over the world.

A brief history of crème brûlée

There are some territorial disputes about who first came up with this dessert. Whilst France, England and the United States all have their own historic versions of it – the first documented recipe for crème brûlée was published by the King of France’s cook François Massialot in 1691 in his cookbook Le Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois.  This recipe is actually one of the earliest dessert recipes on record.

In England, there are reports that such a dessert existed at Trinity College in Cambridge in the 17th century, but there are only actual records of it from 1879 when it’s said that the college emblem was burnt on top of the cream with a branding iron. This is the reason crème brûlée is also known in England as Trinity cream or Cambridge burnt cream.

Interestingly, there is no word for custard in French, which is the basis of crème brûlée. Instead, they call it ‘crème anglaise’ – which translates as English cream.

Over in the United States, crème brûlée also has a history. There are records of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers, sending his slave James Hemings to France in 1784 to learn the tricks of French cuisine and he brought back to America delights such as champagne, French fries and crème brûlée!

What is crème brûlée made of?

Few ingredients are needed for a crème brûlée, but it is not a simple dish to make.  The perfect crème brûlée takes love, patience, precision and know-how.

The core ingredients needed are egg yolks, sugar, whole milk, heavy cream, vanilla pods and extra sugar for the topping. Different chefs have their own variations and versions of the recipe; some add liqueur, fruit or other things to alter the taste and consistency. The provenance of the ingredients is important and will vary from chef to chef.

The most common main flavour is vanilla, though some recipes from other parts of the world prefer fruits such as orange, lemon or lime. Other variations use ingredients such as ginger, coconut extract, condensed milk, honey, liqueur, cocoa and more, altering crème brûlée’s signature flavour into something more exotic and individual.

How is it made?

The cooking method will also vary according to the chef’s preference, time constraints and cooking equipment. However, two parts of the cooking process are essential for the conception of a perfect crème brûlée: the water bath and the all-important caramelisation of the sugar topping.

The water bath, also known as the ‘bain marie’, is the process of placing the crème brûlées in their individual ramekin dishes in a roasting pan containing water in the oven. This allows the custard within to cook gently and evenly, without curdling or forming a crust.

The caramelisation is, of course, the dish’s ‘pièce de resistance’ and is often what most people first think of when it comes to crème brûlées. A kitchen blowtorch is typically used to brown the sugar on top of the custard base to create a thin but solid crystallised topping. This gives the dish its caramelised taste, which works perfectly with the rich creamy custard underneath.

It needs to be done just right; it’s important not to burn the top as this will ruin the flavour of the whole dessert.

To this day, crème brûlée remains a classic and adored dessert dish – and that is no different at Côte Brasserie. Our secret recipe has been perfected over the years, and it’s one of our most popular desserts in every restaurant across the nation, so book your table at Côte and be sure to order the crème brûlée to finish to truly enjoy this classic French sweet treat.