Coffee Crème Brûlée - Modernist Cuisine

Coffee Crème Brûlée

Recipe • April 22, 2014

The term “custard” spans so many possible ingredients and techniques that it is most useful to think of a custard as simply a particular texture and mouthfeel. Custards have been made for centuries by lightly cooking a blend of eggs and heavy cream, but Modernist chefs have invented myriad ways to make custards. The techniques here offer greater consistency and more control over the texture, which can range from airy, typical of a sabayon, to dense, as in a posset.

The one constant among custards is the use of plenty of fat, which not only provides that distinctive mouthfeel but also makes custard an excellent carrier of fat-soluble flavors and aromas. Lighter varieties of custard, however, can be aerated in a whipping siphon into smooth, creamy foams.

One of the more iconic custards is crème brûlée, which has a distinctively rich, velvety texture, and, like many other custards, egg yolks and heat serve as its thickener and gelling agent, respectively. For this recipe, we gave our Coffee Crème Brûlée a twofold Modernist twist by combining the techniques of sous vide and cold infusion. Sous vide provides increased precision and temperature control over the custard, and cold infusion better preserves the aromatics and coffee flavor.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home


Coffee Creme Brulee recipe

To cold infuse the coffee custard, simply soak whole, dark-roast coffee beans in cream overnight.

Ensure that all of your ingredients are thoroughly blended before letting your brûlée settle.

Divide your custard evenly among four ramekins and seal tightly with plastic wrap before cooking.

Tips & Substitutions:

Steps 1–5:
  • Cold-infused coffee is much brighter and more intense than traditional, hot-infused versions because it retains many volatile aromas that would dissipate quickly if heated.
  • To cold infuse the coffee custard, simply soak whole, dark-roast coffee beans in cream overnight.
  • Seal the coffee infusion using the water displacement method. You can find tips for using this method on p. 58 of Modernist Cuisine at Home.
  • If you use a combi oven, set the oven to full steam at 82 °C / 180 °F during step 3.
  • To reduce cooking time, temper the yolks by heating the infused cream before moving on to step 4. Then whisk the warmed cream gently into the yolks when you blend all of the ingredients together in step 4.
  • Before moving on to step 5, ensure that all of your ingredients are fully blended.
Steps 6–12:
  • Accurate temperature control is crucial for making custards with just the right texture. Use a thermometer to check that your water bath or combi oven hits and holds your set temperature before cooking your brûlée.
  • Melt all of the sugar evenly with a blowtorch before it begins to brown, otherwise you’ll end up with burnt areas and spots of barely caramelized sugar. As you blowtorch your brûlée, a crisp, amber layer should appear on the custard as you lightly sweep the flame over its surface.
  • If you’re new to using a blowtorch, the best technique is to sweep the tip of the flame back and forth across the brûlée’s surface in quick, even passes. Imagine painting the surface of your custard with the torch—you’ll get better-looking results if you brown it in two or three coats rather than trying to do the whole job in a single pass, and try to avoid dwelling too long in one place to avoid scorching it.
  • Instead of blowtorching the custards, you can make caramel by carefully heating sugar in a shallow pan over medium heat until it turns dark brown, while taking care not to burn it. After step 10, pour the caramel over each custard and allow it to cool to a crisp crust before serving. If you’re making many servings, this method is faster than blowtorching.
  • You can make crème brûlée using any of our infusion variations in Modernist Cuisine at Home, which include recipes for Earl Grey, Bacon Brown Sugar, Cinnamon Vanilla, Coconut, and even Fruity Pebbles.
  • Expand further the range of these techniques by choosing one of our crème brûlée recipes in Modernist Cuisine at Home and adding a flavored infusion to make an interesting pairing, such as a chocolate crème brûlée made with coconut-infused half-and-half. Make the infusion using half milk and half cream. Then substitute 200 g / 210 mL / ⅞ cup of the flavored half-and-half infusion for the cream and milk in the brûlée recipe.
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