Fran’s Chocolate Crème Brûlée

Experimenting with classic vanilla custard with a burnt sugar crust gave Fran an excuse to focus on two of her favorite flavors: chocolate and caramel. She used a higher percentage of bittersweet chocolate to offset the sugary topping, making this as addictive a custard as one will ever encounter. Heat just brings out the nuances and intensifies the chocolate’s seductive qualities.

The classic shallow ovals for making crème brûlée are the best because they create just the right proportion of rich custard to caramelized crust. If you don’t have a butane torch, crème brûlée can be caramelized under the broiler. Just dust with extra sugar and position about 4 inches from the flame. Turn the custards frequently to avoid burnt spots.

Serves 6


  • 5 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar, plus an additional 6 tablespoons sugar for caramelizing
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 4½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 70% cacao), finely chopped


  1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Have ready six 7-ounce shallow, oval ramekins or crème brûlée dishes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Gently whisk, without beating in air, until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve. Set aside.
  3. In a large heavy saucepan, heat the cream with the split vanilla bean and 2 tablespoons sugar until it comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat.
  4. Lift out the vanilla bean and let cool a minute. Holding the bean over the cream, gently scrape loose all the seeds with the back of a paring knife so they fall into the pot. Discard the empty pod or rinse and let dry before using to make homemade vanilla sugar (place the dried vanilla pod in a canister of sugar).
  5. Stir in the chocolate until thoroughly melted and smooth.
  6. Pour ⅓ of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and stir to combine. Then add the remaining chocolate mixture, gently stirring until smooth.
  7. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup. Pour about 3 ounces into each ramekin, about ½ inch deep. Firmly tap the base of each cup on the counter to remove any bubbles.
  8. Arrange the ramekins in a heavy-rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan. Put the baking dish into the oven and fill with ½ inch simmering water for a bain-marie.
  9. Bake the custards for 20 minutes, or until set. The tops should be glossy and the surface should move evenly when shaken. If the center moves independently, return to the oven. With a wide spatula, lift and transfer the custards to a rack to cool. Then transfer to the refrigerator to thoroughly chill, 2 to 4 hours, uncovered.
  10. About an hour before serving, sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over each chilled custard. Holding a propane or butane torch several inches from the surface, begin passing the flame back and forth until the sugar begins to melt and caramelize. Your goal is a thin, crisp crust so that each bite of custard is accompanied by a bit of caramel.
  11. Refrigerate to set the crust, about 30 minutes but not too long. Lengthy refrigeration will cause the caramel to weep. For the creamiest consistency, serve at room temperature.


Small, deep ramekins or custard cups can also be used for crème brûlée. You need to adjust the time since they will take longer to bake — as long as 15 minutes more for 3 ounce ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil to prevent a crust from forming on the custard during longer baking time. Thin porcelain is always best for baking.

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