This Homemade Crème Brûlée Ice Cream transforms the French Classic dessert into this tasty treat. Using a vanilla bean custard base, the ice cream is mixed with crunchy caramel pieces that give it the signature tastes of the burnt caramel we all know and love from a traditional crème brûlée dessert. This takes ice cream to a whole new level.
Another ice cream recipe for you in my summer series. I'm building an array of delicious frozen recipes that you can turn to when the heat strikes your part of the world. (Let's be honest though, ice cream is a year-round food group!) My Pecan Praline Ice Cream and Strawberry Mascarpone Ice Cream are firm favourites. For entertaining, then my Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo is a showstopping centrepiece.
What is Crème Brûlée?
Crème Brûlée is essentially a custard that is then baked to set. A layer of sugar is then sprinkled over the set custard and torched until it caramelises and hardens providing that signature crack when tapped with a spoon. It doesn't get more French than this!
How do you turn Crème Brûlée into Ice Cream?
With a French mum, I grew up loving Crème Brûlée and Crème Caramel. They were much-loved desserts in my home and I was wondering how I could incorporate that classic into ice cream. It's actually a fairly simple process as the two elements are the same.
For the ice cream, you still need to make a vanilla custard base, which is essentially the basis for traditional gelato and instead of baking the custard, it's churned in an ice cream machine until thick and creamy and frozen.
To get the torched caramel taste that is key to the crème brûlée flavour, we essentially make hard crack caramel by melting down sugar until it caramelises. Once hardened on a tray it can be broken into a million pieces and stirred through the custard base before freezing.
As the ice cream freezes, it softens the caramel brittle turning it into burnt sugar ribbons passing through the ice cream. If you are a die-hard crunch lover then sprinkle caramel brittle over the ice cream before serving. Regardless, the taste is unmistakenly a French classic dessert rolled into a frozen dessert. And it's pure bliss!
Why you'll love this recipe
- Uses basic ingredients. Using only 5 ingredients, this ice cream goes to show how only a handful of ingredients can be turned into something magical!
- Super tasty. Nothing beats the simplicity of proper vanilla bean ice cream made with a custard base. I love no-churn ice creams, but the strength in taste that gelato has is unrivalled!
- The texture is unreal. Whilst making gelato can feel like a process, the result certainly outweighs the effort. Churning the ice cream creates a creamy scoopable ice cream that you can eat straight from the tub.
With only five ingredients, milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla bean, you'll have all that you need in your fridge or pantry. I've made a few notes on some of the ingredients below that are worth reading.
Vanilla Pod - I used a vanilla pod to get the maximum flavour into the ice cream. You can substitute with 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. Vanilla extract (not essence) can also be used but you will miss out on the hundreds of little vanilla specks. Add 2 teaspoons if using extract.
Sugar - I use regular sugar for this recipe, but feel free to use golden granulated or caster or even light brown sugar which will give the ice cream base a more caramel flavour.
Eggs - 5 egg yolks are needed. Make sure they are at room temperature. If you forget to bring them to room temp before starting the recipe then pop the eggs in a bowl of warm water for ten minutes. It's actually easier to separate the yolks from the whites once they are at room temperature.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can but I feel the super high-fat content can leave that greasy feel on your lips which I'm personally not a fan of. But if you don't mind or notice that, then go with all cream.
Stored correctly in an airtight container, the ice cream stays fresh for about six weeks.
Do I need a blow torch for this recipe?
No you don't. The caramel is made in a saucepan unlike with traditional creme brulee where the sugar is torched directly on the set custard.
The main equipment you'll need are:
- Heavy based sauced pan: to make the custard ice cream base and also to melt the sugar and create the caramel brittle.
- Medium mixing bowl: used when making the custard. Make sure it's bigg enough to fit the volume of milk and cream as at one point all the ingredients will be in this bowl.
- Ice cream machine: there are no two ways about it you'll need an ice cream machine! And I know, another gadget that you use once in a blue moon. Actually, mine is pretty small and compact. I got it 12 years ago whilst living in Australia and every summer it comes out and gets used over and over again. And it cost me $25USD/£20 back then. You don't need to spend hundreds on a machine, a simple one will do and makes such a difference in your ice cream making game!
- Room temperature eggs. too much difference in temperature between the eggs and the milk mixture when you add them together will cause the eggs to cook as soon as they come into contact.
- Be patient. The key to success when making custard is to take your time. Heat the milk and cream gently so as not to scald it. Once the egg yolks are added, keep the heat low to prevent the custard from catching and eggs from scrambling. When making the caramel brittle, don't rush the sugar caramelising otherwise it would melt evenly and you'll result in burnt sugar with unmelted sugar granules.
- Chill the custard before churning. I recommend chilling it for no less than two hours. The longer you chill it, the creamier the texture of the ice cream. In truth, when making this for the photoshoot, I was impatient to get the custard into the ice cream machine. I definitely didn't chill it as long as I should have and noticed a difference with the frozen texture compared to during my recipe testing. It wasn't nearly as creamy! Lesson learnt- don't rush the process!
There are two components to making this Crème Brulee Ice Cream - firstly the custard base, and then the caramel brittle. Both are relatively simple to tackle but they do have a couple of pinch points that I'll go through.
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
Make the vanilla custard base
1. Heat the milk and cream gently. Add the milk, cream and vanilla pod into a heavy-based saucepan and set over low heat on the stovetop (Image 1). Heat the mixture until it's steaming and you can see some bubbles appear around the edges of the saucepan. Whatever you do, don't boil it!!! Keep the heat on low and don't get impatient! Once warmed sufficiently then turn the stovetop off. Take out the vanilla bean cut it in half and run the knife along the inside of both halves scraping the vanilla beans out and set aside (Image 4.
2. Whisk eggs and sugar. In a separate bowl add your egg yolks and sugar and whisk them together until thickened and pale. This takes about a minute, a little longer if doing it by hand (Image 2 & 3). Did you know that the sugar can dry out and 'burn' the egg yolks? So don't leave them in the bowl together for too long before whisking them.
TIP: Set your bowl with whisked egg yolks onto a tea towel. This stops the bowl from moving around whilst you whisk at the same time as pouring in the warm milk mixture.
3. Combine the two mixtures together. We're then going to temper the eggs now. What does that mean? The milk mixture is warm and if you add the eggs directly to that, it would basically scramble them. Disaster! So, we temper by adding a little of the milk mixture at a time to the eggs whilst continuously whisking which brings the temperature down.
Whilst whisking continuously, pour the cream slowly (Image 5) into the eggs until fully added. Then pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan and onto the stove at low heat (Image 6). Carry on whisking whilst the custard heats and thickens (Image 7). This can take about ten minutes. Don't be impatient and turn the heat up hoping for the thickening to happen soon. All you'll get is a split custard and bits of cooked egg.
Be patient and whisk constantly. The custard is ready when it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and you run a pass-through it that doesn't join (Image 8).
4. Sieve, cool and refrigerate. To guarantee a smooth custard, take the pan off the heat and pass the custard through a sieve into a bowl (Image 9). Sometimes the egg can catch on the bottom of the pan - definitely don't want those bits in your custard!
Cover the custard straight away with plastic wrap - but make sure the wrap sits touching and covering the surface of the custard (Image 10). This prevents a skin from forming.
Leave the bowl to cool for an hour and then refrigerate until cold. That's it for making the ice cream base. Now it just has to be churned.
Make the caramel brittle
5. Make the caramel brittle. To get that real Crème Brûlée Ice cream flavour, we have to add that torched caramel flavour throughout the ice cream. Add the sugar into the saucepan on the stovetop and on low heat melt the chocolate. Stir infrequently, simply jiggle the pan around.
It's an interesting process to watch sugar dissolve and caramelise. After a little while, it'll start to get lumpy and you may think that you have done something wrong. If you haven't, keep the heat on low and those lumps will continue to dissolve away. The sugar will gradually turn liquid and golden brown (Image 11,12 & 13).
When there are no more lumps then pour it onto a lined baking tray (you have to add that paper!) and smooth it thinly with an offset spatula. Work quickly as it sets even quicker!! Let it cool completely then chop into pieces of varying sizes (Image 14, 15 & 16).
Churn and freeze the ice cream
6. Churn the ice cream. I hear you, churning the ice cream can feel like an extra step, getting out the machine, freezing the bowl beforehand. I know. It's an extra process. But really, nothing beats churned ice cream. You see, as it freezes the ice cream mixture, it also adds in air which ultimately makes the ice cream super smooth and creamy.
Back to the recipe! Once the custard base is cold, pour it into the ice cream machine and churn as per the manufactures instructions. Mine churned for 20 minutes (Image 17 & 18).
7. Add the caramel brittle and freeze. Pour the churned custard ice cream into your favourite freezer-safe bowl/dish/container (!) and mix in the caramel pieces. I reserve some to sprinkle over the top (Image 19 & 20). Cover in plastic wrap and freeze for a minimum of four hours. I tend to make it the day before and let it freeze overnight.
And then scoop away when ready to enjoy!
- Coffee Creme Brulee Ice Cream: Oooh now this is on my list of ice creams to try! Add 1 tablespoon of espresso coffee powder to the milk and cream when warming it up. That coffee taste will shine through.
- Creme Brulee Ice Cream with Cognac: A little boozy note running through the ice cream. Doesn't that sound lovely! Did you know that alcohol stops an ice cream from freezing solid as it inhibits sugar crystal formation? So, only add 1 or two tablespoons, otherwise, you'll be drinking your ice cream through a straw!
- Coconut Creme Brulee: This would suit those long Summer evenings perfectly. Replace the milk with coconut milk for a tropical vibe.
And there you have this fabulous cream with a twist. Making gelato is a technique and skill that every baker should tackle. It's so fulfilling to achieve that creamy, smooth, rich texture. Teamed with that torched caramel flavour, I dare you to try and stop at one scoop!!
More caramel flavoured recipes
If you tried this Creme Brulee Ice Cream or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a star rating whilst you're there!
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Homemade Creme Brûlée Ice Cream Recipe
- 480 ml whole milk
- 300 ml double cream (heavy cream)
- 5 large egg yolks
- 300 g granulated sugar, divided into 100g/½ cup for the custard and 200g/1 cup for the brittle
- 1 vanilla bean pod
- Heat the milk and cream gently. Combine milk, heavy cream, and the vanilla bean pod in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until it begins to simmer and bubbles appear around the edge of the saucepan. Whatever you do- don't boil the milk. Turn the heat off and remove the vanilla bean pod. Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds with a paring knife's dull (non-cutting) side. Set aside.
- Whisk eggs and sugar. Place the yolks and 100g/½ cup sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk until thickened and pale.
- Combine the two mixtures. Temper the egg yolks. While whisking the yolks continuously, pour a cupful of the milk mixture in a thin stream. Then slowly pour in the remainder. TIP: place the bowl on a tea towel to stop it from sliding around. And whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture straight back into the saucepan and return to low heat on the stovetop. Whilst continuously whisking, heat the custard until it thickens. Test it has thickened by coating the back of a spoon and running your finger through it- if the pass stays- the custard is sufficiently thickened. If it joins then carry on heating on the stovetop.
- Sieve, cool and refrigerate. Pour the custard through a sieve set over a bowl, cover with plastic wrap touching the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Place in the fridge and leave to cool down for at least two hours - or until cool and thickened. I like to leave it overnight for super creamy ice cream.
- Make the caramel brittle. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add the sugar to a heavy-based saucepan and heat on medium to low heat until the sugar has dissolved and turned golden brown. During this process, swirl the sugar around the pan to help the sugar dissolve evenly. Working quickly but carefully, pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and smooth out with an offset spatular. It goes hard quickly, so you need to be pretty speedy smoothing it out. Leave to cool and set for ten minutes, then chop into various sized pieces.
- Churn the ice cream. Once the custard is sufficiently chilled, pour it into the ice cream machine and churn, following the manufacturer's operating instructions. The ice cream will become a soft-serve consistency.
- Add the caramel brittle and freeze. Once churned, pour the frozen custard into a freezer-safe ice cream dish and mix in ¾ of the caramel brittle. Freeze for a minimum of 6 hours. When ready to serve, sprinkle the top of the ice cream with the remaining chopped caramel. Scoop, serve and enjoy!
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.