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creme brulee - how far in advance can i torch the top?

I am going to be making creme brulee for a little dinner party held at a friend's home. I've never actually made it before, and I'm afraid that it'll take too long to torch the tops of them with my little williams-sonoma-type torch and I'd really just like to bring them ready to eat. I want to enjoy the party, after all! How far in advance can I make the crackly top without them losing their snap? Every recipe I've seen says to do it right before serving...

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  1. I have always done it just before, not sure how long it lasts. It doesn't take too long with my regular propane torch, I imagine it would be the same with yours.

    Maybe try out the technique beforehand. Perhaps sprinkle sugar over yogurt or something to practice. It isn't hard to do at all, but then you could see how long it will take and decide if you just want to do it there and avoid the risk.

    Maybe there is some better base to practice on than yogurt? Sour cream? That's thicker.

    3 Replies
    1. re: guate

      Trying it out in advance was a good idea. Unfortunately, all I had that is vaguely custard-like was some fat-free sugar-free chocolate pudding. It was kind of hard to distinguish the browned sugar from the brown pudding. But it didn't take that long.

      So when you torch the sugar, does it actually take a bit to set into the crunchy end state? I think the pudding melted a little underneath, so I had to put it into the fridge for a couple of minute for the sugar to set.

      1. re: keslacye

        Torch and then re-refridgerate 15-20 mins to let the crunch set in

        1. re: malabargold

          Part of the joy of creme brulee for me is the contrast between the hot/warm crunch of the topping against the custard.

          I am always disappointed when it comes 'from the fridge' in restaurants.

    2. One reason to do it there is that everyone will enjoy seeing you play with fire. I've torched things at party and they're literally mesmerized.

      1. I agree that doing it there is a big hit.

        I haven't ever had to let it set that I recall but if that works then great!

        1. You could do it under a broiler just before serving. I saw a catering show where they made creme brulee but made caramelized sugar (like making toffee) in advance, poured it onto a cookie sheet and then broke into pieces when cooled. They used these pieces to put on top of the creme brulee. Not quite the same but would work.

          1. its quick enough to do there, and it has a little ooh wow factor too which is always good at a party

            1. Not more than 20 minutes ahead.

              For something to practice on, try sliced banana. It won't soak up too much of the sugar (only about as much as the creme brulee), and it is light enough that you can see the color change.

              1 Reply
              1. re: babette feasts

                and then use the bruleed bananas to make a banana split

                you deserve it

              2. I have made creme brulee numerous times and it is fine in the fridge for a couple hours before your meal. I've even had the sugar topping stay hard and crispy till the next day, but sometimes, especially if the whole thing is covered with plastic wrap there could be condensation. If you want to do it before guest arrive just put it in the fridge without any plastic wrap or covering and it will be fine. The best recipe I've used is found at http://www.cremebrulee.com EASY and always turns out perfect.

                1. The sugar crust gets soggy if it is made ahead so it must be done as close as possible to the time of service. I like to chill the cooked custards, so there is a contrast of the chilled custard and the warm crunchy topping. This is a perfect use for a flavored sugar such as vanilla or lemon if you have it

                  The hand torches sold in cookware store for creme brulees are a waste of money because they do not produce sufficient heat to do the job properly, and I like the standard brazing propane torch that is sold in every hardware store/ homecenter for this application. I would suggest that you wear leather gloves to do it and buy a spare fuel tank, just in case.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    I also like the contrast between the chilled custard and warm crunchy topping. I always prepare my custard on the stove and then putting it in the dishes rather than baking it in a bain marie. Then, I put the chilled custards in an ice water bath while dealing with the top. It keeps the custard cold and doesn't let it get warm from the torch/broiler. I have used the broiler and I have used torches for torching the top.

                  2. The only danger to any caramel is moisture. The caramel will absorb moisture and become soft. That being said, you could burlee the custard before hand, and serve the crème burlee within a few hours, it will work. However, the longer you wait the less ‘crack’ you will have when you eat the crème burlee. You want the contrast in texture, hard caramel and soft rich creamy custard. This is guarantee if you burlee and serve. Also your guest might get a kick out of the host torching their custards for them.

                    I’ve never used one of those torches made to burlee; I only have used a propane torch used for soldering. A soldering torch takes no time to burlee the sugar. Hold the ramekin on an angle and constantly turn the ramekin while applying the flame. Burlee the sugar this way will help to create an even colour and also will help to prevent burning. You want a golden colour, not dark brown.

                    Crème caramel does not require any open flame. Mind you it’s best to make crème caramel two days in advance, that way most of the caramel will have become liquefied sitting in the fridge.

                    1. at my rest we never brulee them in advance. we pre-cook earlier in the day, hold cold then brulee at the last moment. it's nice if the custard in chilled and brulee is hot.