Topaz Restaurant

The classic Crème Brûlée, a potted history and recipe

There are few greater testaments to the elegance of simplicity than this, and there is always something a little audacious about that first moment when spoon taps into the golden glass of the caramel topping to get to the creamy deliciousness underneath. 

Made up of just five easily available ingredients — cream, vanilla, salt, eggs and sugar — crème brûlée has provided the perfect ending for many meals over centuries thanks to its irresistible combination of tastes and textures from the smooth, creamy egg custard to the crunchy burned-sugar topping.

The first published reference to a crème brûlée comes up in a French text published in 1691. But the dish also has a long tradition in England, where it was first described in the the book The Modern Cook, published in the 1700s. In a tradition associated with Trinity College at Cambridge University, which claims to be the birthplace of the dessert, the college crest is burnt into the sugar at the top of the custard using a hot iron that can still be viewed today. 

A slightly different version of this eternal favourite comes from further south, and the kitchens of Catalonia, where the crema Catalana is flavoured with lemon or orange rather than vanilla.