Creme brûlée is one of the ultimate classic desserts.  It has such a reputation of being aaahhh-mazing, and people are always gushing about how wonderful it is.  I had never tasted it until sometime during med school, when I was out to dinner with my aunt.  When she learned that I had never tried it she insisted we change that then and there.  At the time I knew absolutely nothing about it or what to expect, except that it should knock my socks off.  Instead, I was underwhelmed.  It had been built up so much in my mind that a very eggy custard with burnt sugar was a let down to say the least.

I think that most of that disappointment was simply a matter of inaccurate expectations.  The next time I tried it, I knew exactly what to expect and was much more able to enjoy and appreciate it.  And by now I’ve had it enough times to declare that yes, I think it’s pretty wonderful indeed.  These cupcakes were a recent coworker birthday selection and I was curious to see how well the concept of creme brûlée would handle being cupcake-ified.  This approach uses a vanilla pastry cream rather than a classic custard, but combined with the burnt sugar topping, the combination is absolutely spot on.  Based on the reviews they received, I think this is a version of creme brûlée that everyone can get on board with, even the haters.


For the topping:

  • 3 cups whole milk, divided
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (optional)
  • 6 tbsp. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 3 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cupcakes:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup (6 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk
  • Sugar, for finishing


  • 01

    To make the pastry cream, combine 6 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk to blend well.  Set aside.   In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 2½ cups plus 2 tablespoons of milk with the sugar, salt and vanilla bean.  Warm over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Meanwhile, place the egg and egg yolks in a large liquid measuring cup and whisk lightly.  Blend in the cornstarch mixture.

  • 02

    When the milk-sugar mixture just begins to simmer, slowly pour a portion of the warm milk into the measuring cup with the eggs, whisking constantly to prevent curdling.  Continue until most of the milk has been mixed in.  Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, then cook until thickened, about 1 minute, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent burning.  Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl or storage container, press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and chill thoroughly.

  • 03

    To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients in three additions alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.

  • 04

    Divide the batter between the prepared liners filling each about half to two thirds full.  Bake the cupcakes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until just set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to let cool completely.

  • 05

    To assemble the cupcakes, use a small paring knife to cut out a wide cone from the top of the cupcake.  Transfer the pastry cream to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip (I use Ateco #809).  Fill the cones with a generous layer of the pastry cream.  (If making in advance, the cupcakes can be covered and refrigerated at this point.)  When ready to serve, sprinkle a layer of sugar over the surface of the pastry cream and caramelize to a golden brown with a kitchen torch.  Serve immediately.

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar

    These are super unique Annie! Lovely cupcake :)

  • These turned out so beautiful Annie- I’m so glad your co-worker liked them! :)

  • Katie @ Butterlust Blog

    Flawless cupcakes! I need one right now!

  • Liz N.

    I think my favorite part of creme brulee is the ability to ‘crack’ the burnt sugar topping with the swift tap of spoon. Are you able to achieve this ‘crack’ on the cupcakes? I’m guessing it’s more likely if it is served immediately. What a unique twist on a classic!

  • Amy Jespersen

    ARE YOU KIDDING WITH THIS ONE! Holy cow those sound delish!

  • annieseats

    Oh yes, the crack is achieved here. I ate one about an hour after I had torched them and the topping was still perfect. I know that it does dissolve eventually, but it lasted at least that long.

  • Ali @ Solano’s Kitchen

    Yummm can’t wait to try these! Just took some pumpkin creme brulee out of the oven – I have a feeling these will be next on the list!

  • Melissa L

    Ha! I had a very similar underwhelming experience lately with my first macaron. Just so much hype. I guess I will have to give them another chance to see if I can appreciate them more. And what a great, creative cupcake!

  • I know a lot of people who aren’t that into eggy or custardy desserts, but I am SO not one of them. Creme brulee is one of my favorites! Though I’d probably be partial to it in cupcake form. Because then you get creme brulee AND cake.

  • Creme brulee is, hands down, one of my very favorite desserts. What a brilliant idea for a cupcake!!

  • THIS IS SUCH A GOOD IDEA. I need to find a blowtorch STAT.

  • Kelsey

    WHOA. Seriously. These look so over the top good. I know just who I’m making them for.

  • Vicki Wilde

    Wow, these look amazing! I did just buy some butane for my torch, maybe I should test it out! :)

    <3 Vicki

  • Erica M.

    I’m with Amy … Are you kidding me?! Oh my! My aunt also introduced me to Crème Brulee and it was like heaven on a spoon. Not eggy at all, a creamy vanilla with that marvelous burnt cotton candy like flavor. MMMMM! She loves my cupcakes so I can’t wait to wow her with these!!!

  • What a genius idea for a cupcake!

  • Zoe

    um YES! And thank you for giving me another excuse to use my kitchen torch. yum!

  • annieseats

    If you’re up for it, maybe try making your own. The first macaron I tried was a total bust too, but when I made them, I finally understood what everyone was talking about.

  • Melissa L

    I did make my own and followed your very wonderful and helpful recipe and instructions. They were good, but I really was expecting a more euphoric experience :)

  • Thank you! A good friend of mine loves Creme Brûlée and she is pregnant- I have to make these for her!

  • Abbie E

    These are so amazing!

  • Two Red Bowls

    This is genius! So gorgeous, too. Also, you’re a doctor and you manage to blog at the same time?! That’s beyond incredible (in fact, I’m dumbfounded). Superwoman — thanks for posting this!

  • annieseats

    No no, not superwoman. Just bad at sitting still :) But thank you!

  • Steph in Lex

    These look AWESOME. I am definitely a fan of creme brulee and I’m positive these cupcakes are fantastic!

  • grandbabycakes

    Oh gosh! I so what these. They are so genius!!!

  • Lyba

    oh those vanilla bean specks..

  • Abbs Archer

    looks delicious! :) quick question: how did you get the cream to spread so pretty on top of the cupcake? did you use a spatula or a decorating tip?

  • annieseats

    I used a piping tip as described in the directions above. Hope that helps!

  • Corinne

    I am trying to make these for a BBQ birthday at a park. They would probably have to be out of the fridge for 2 hours. Is that possible or do you recommend anything else?

  • Annie

    I don’t think these would be the best option for a BBQ. Most of my cupcake recipes would be but both because of the pastry cream and the torched topping, these would be less than ideal. Check the cupcake category for LOTS of other ideas!