Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lemon-Basil Creme Brulee

A man eating at the restaurant said that this is the best creme brulee he's ever had. Its faintly herbaceous, and in this way it kind of reminds me of the fresh mint ice cream I made all summer. The flavor is subtle but complex, and definitely a worth detour from your every day vanilla.

I made this batch with some of the last of the basil that came out of the garden at the restaurant. We're lucky with late freezes here in Georgia (this was in December).

Lemon Basil or another variety would also be great as flavoring for creme brulee, and fresh please, preferably picked from your garden. (I realized for most of this is difficult because it is January)

For 6 servings...

6 ramekins
Casserole dish for water bath
3 cups heavy cream
3 oz (about a tad less than 1/2 cup) sugar
6 eggs yolks
Grated zest of two lemons
1 cup packed basil leaves

extra sugar for caramelizing the tops of the brulees

Heat the cream in a medium saucepan. Add the lemon zest.  Wash the basil and stir it into the cream, then let steep for an hour to meld the flavors.

Towards the end of the hour, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and gather your ramekins. You will need approximately 6. Prepare a water bath for them to bake in- a 9 x 13 baking dish works well. Place the ramekins in the pan and pour very hot water around them, half way up their sides.

Strain the cream to remove the basil leaves and lemon zest. Reheat the cream until quite warm. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar, until the yolks are pale and fluffy.

Gradually add in the hot cream, whisking constantly. If you move too fast through this stage you will have little bits of cooked egg in your creme brulee, and nobody wants that. Slowly add the cream until it is all well combined. Try not to make too many bubbles on the surface of the custard mixture as you do this.

Pour the custard mixture through a strainer (to remove rouge egg bits) into a spouted container and divide the custard mixture evenly between the ramekins.

Bake for 30 plus minutes until the edges of the brulees are set and the centers are still a little loose. Sometimes, in certain ovens, my creme brulees take closer to an hour. However, even if they look a bit loose when you pull them, they will firm up better than you'd guess once chilled.

Cool the custards completely before refrigerating (in the water bath if you're worried about them setting, out of the bath if you're confident they're good to go). They won't completely set until they've been chilled in the fridge.

When ready to serve, caramelize the tops of the brulees. Pour about a tablespoon of sugar on the surface of the brulee, shake it around to cover it completely, then dump off the excess. With a kitchen torch, blast that sugar from 2 or 3 inches away, until evenly browned. You can do this in two layers if you want a thicker crunchy top.

If you don't have a propane or kitchen torch, you can use broiler in your oven, but watch them carefully.


  1. I've been googling creme brulee recipes and landed on your blog - this, and the ginger version look absolutely divine. Am planning to make them this weekend and have bookmarked your recipe, thanks!

  2. When do you add the lemon zest?

  3. You add the lemon zest with the basil to let it steep, then strain it out later when you strain the basil out. Thanks for catching that!

  4. Another way to do this is instead of the lemon zest, you could smear some lemon curd on the bottom of the ramekin and pour the basil-cream mixture over top that.