Make a foolproof Slow Cooker Crème Brûlée! Low & slow heat is ideal for baking custard gently. Add a crunchy sugar crust for a winning treat!
Did you know that there is a National Vanilla Custard Day in the US? It's August 17th.
There are so many ways to celebrate, depending on how energetic you are.
If you're not feeling particularly energetic, then you'll want to mix up a quick vanilla base and let your slow cooker turn it into a baked custard. And you don't even have to heat your oven!
But wait, there's more...that baked custard can be sprinkled with sugar, torched until it's burnt caramelized candy, and you have Slow Cooker Crème Brûlée.
Creamy vanilla custard, crunchy caramelized candy, and fire...count me in!
Use common ingredients for custard
Custards come in many forms, but the basic building blocks are the same. Cream is thickened with egg yolks.
Flavorings, sweeteners, and the ratio of cream to eggs starts to add to the complexity. For our purposes here, we're going to use heavy cream, milk, sugar, and a vanilla bean for our Crème Brûlée.
It's how we cook these ingredients that will make the difference.
Let me explain...
Two types of custards
There are two methods for making custard...stirred or baked.
Stirred custards are made on the stovetop.
Cream is heated, then some is slowly added to egg yolks to raise their temperature without curdling (called "tempering the eggs"). The warmed egg mixture is then poured back in with the rest of the heated cream and stirred until the whole thing is thickened.
This is how pastry cream (Crème Anglaise, for you purists), is made.
Freeze this base, and you have ice cream.
If you add cornstarch to the heated mixture, you'll get a thicker custard, aka pudding.
Baked custards are...uhm...baked in the oven.
(Thanks, Captain Obvious!)
How you bake it is important, or rather, how you protect the custard from the intense heat of the oven matters. For the aforementioned bread pudding and quiche, using bread cubes or a pie crust insulates the custard so it can bake slowly.
Otherwise, you need a water bath.
Use a slow cooker to make baked custard
In the oven, water acts as the insulator, shielding the custard and allowing it to cook gently.
Using the slow cooker with a water bath does the same thing, it's just the lower cooking temperature really slows the process and produces a silky smooth custard. It might take longer, but the result is well worth it.
You'll need to line the slow cooker with a kitchen towel, thick potholders, or create individual foil rings for each ramekin you'll be using. The idea is to keep the ramekins from directly touching the bottom of the crockpot.
So for baked custards, we don't need to temper the hot cream into the egg yolks.
Just mix up the custard base in a medium mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout to ease pouring later on.
Yup, it's that simple.
Make sure you have enough water for the water bath. It needs to be about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. For my 6-qt slow cooker, I used about 1 quart of water.
Crème Brûlée is custard with a crunch
So your baked custard is cooked and cooled. It's ready to eat, right?
Yes, unless you like to play with fire.
You see, Crème Brûlée literally means burnt cream. And by that it means burning sugar to create a golden, caramelized crust (not burning the cream itself, which would be bad).
The best way to caramelize the sugar is with a chef's torch. It's quick, easy, and produces that beautiful color that Crème Brûlée is known for.
By the way, if you want another use for the chef's torch, here's an idea while the custards are in the slow cooker...turn sweet onions into homemade French Onion Soup. It's a great project for a lazy afternoon, and dinner will be delicious!
You can use your oven's broiler if you don't have a chef's torch handy, but really, what's the fun in that?
Seriously, the broiler can melt the sugar, but it might not come out as golden. Also, it could take upwards of 5 to 8 minutes (instead of about 15 seconds with the torch).
[Disclaimer: I do not advocate playing with a chef's torch! It's not a toy and can cause serious burns to yourself, to others, or to your dwelling if not used in the proper manner. Please take care!]
My recipe for Crème Brûlée isn't as sweet as others I've seen. You can increase the amount of sugar if that's what you prefer.
I love the texture difference between the silky smoothness of the custard flavored with specks of vanilla bean seeds against the crunchy crust.
This is one lovely dessert.
Yes, Slow Cooker Crème Brûlée is foolproof to make and fun to eat!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Recipes using custard
Custards come in many forms, but the method is similar across the board. Luckily, the technique is easy to master, and you'll be able to make a whole range of treats!
Foolproof Slow Cooker Crème Brûlée
For the custard base
- 1½ cups heavy cream, see Recipe Notes (12 oz, 340g)
- ½ cup milk, see Recipe Notes (4 oz, 113g)
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, see Recipe Notes
- 6 large egg yolks
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar, see Recipe Notes (2⅓ oz, 66g)
For the burnt sugar crust
- 4 tsp granulated sugar
- Decide how many 4-oz ramekins will fit in your slow cooker (in my 6 qt model, I could fit four). Line the slow cooker with a kitchen towel, thick potholders, or create individual foil rings for each ramekin you'll be using. The idea is to keep the ramekins from directly touching the bottom of the crockpot.
- Place the empty ramekins in the crockpot and measure enough water for it to be halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Remove the ramekins and set aside.
- Combine the cream and milk in a medium mixing bowl, preferably one with a spout. Add the vanilla bean seeds and whisk well. Add the egg yolks and sugar, whisking well.
- Pour the custard base into the ramekins about ¾ full. Carefully transfer the filled ramekins to the slow cooker. Drape two paper towels on the rim of the slow cooker to keep condensation from building.
- Cook the custards on LOW for 2 to 2½ hours, or until the centers are just set with a slight jiggle in the middle.
- Remove from the slow cooker and allow to cool to room temperature, then chill for at least 3 hours. If holding longer, cover them with plastic wrap to avoid condensation on the custard’s surface.
- When ready to serve, sprinkle about one teaspoon of sugar on the custard's surface and gently spread to cover. Using a chef’s torch, toast the sugar until it’s brown and bubbling (it will harden as it cools. Serve and enjoy!