Technique: How to Brulee, without Broiler or Blowtorch

Are you like me?

  • With a temperamental broiler in your kitchen/oven? The net effect of which is no broiling?
  • Without a blow torch for reasons of border control and air travel rules & regulations?
  • Yet with a deep desire to crack a sugar glass crust? Specifically creme brûlée, restaurant-style…….in your own kitchen.

Never has burnt cream been so appealing. To me! Say it with me (French accent et al). Creme Brûlée. crem broo lay.

A cracked crust is the best kind for a creme brûlée

That luscious dessert of just-set custard, with a wonderful chapeau (topping) of crackable caramel.

According to Wikipedia, Discs of caramel may be prepared separately and put on top of the creme brûlée just before serving, or the caramel may be formed directly on top of the custard, immediately before serving. To do this, sugar is sprinkled onto the custard, then caramelized under a broiler / salamander or with a blow torch.

So fair enough you can make the caramel separately but would you want to do that? And if so, do tell why. For I think it is so much trouble to do. Hence my ‘other’ option.

Use a spoon! Yes, a spoon. A heated spoon.

Technique: A large cooking spoon is heated on the stove top/flame. This is pressed down on the ‘sugar-top’ of a cold, set custard to create a crust that can be cracked with a spoon, to reveal creamy custard underneath.

Application: Creme Brûlée! The iconic dessert.

Results: A well-defined, ‘breakable’ caramel top which is exactly how you want your Creme Brûlée

Level: Easy

Why I like it: If you don’t have a functional broiler in your oven, or a blowtorch, this dessert is still accomplishable!

A few weeks ago, on the Food52 Hotline, I asked a question, desperate to buy a blow torch to make creme brûlée. The question was ‘How to get a blowtorch across continents? I’ve decided to get a blow torch when I’m in the US in the summer. How can I get it home with me to Nigeria??? Anyone travelled on an airplane with one? or cargoed it? Help!’

The responses over a few days brought me lots of laughter and finally a solution to my brûlée dilemma.

A dilemma I was in because of a delicious lemongrass creme brûlée I had in Edinburgh at my sisters spring wedding.

Dessert deliciousness

Served with a whiskey granite, summer berries and a mixed sesame seed snap, it brought joy and freshness to the palate and plate.

Totally cleaned ramekin!

With a towering pot of lemongrass gracing my front yard, I felt the custard was no big deal. The crackling top of burnt sugar would be the real challenge.

So on to the hotline it was. I got varied advice from using plumbing blowtorches meant for welding copper pipes to being careful to avoid trouble by going against safety regulations. We had a plumber from Frankston plumber agency come in to fix a few of our sinks because the water pressure was to high and we almost had him try to use his blowtorch.

But one tip held promise and that came from Cris aka Mensaque, from Brazil.

She wrote ‘Here’s another idea for you…….on how to brûler your crème: spread the sugar over the custard,take a big metal spoon or a spatula,heat it on your stove burner and and press it on the sugar till brown. Works like a charm!’

I was thrilled. There was the possibility of success and sooner than I hoped!

Cris writes more: “Hey, KB. How kind of you to send me a message…thank you. I’m glad I could help. I’m from Brazil, and over here (at least in my hometown) it is almost impossible to find a good blowtorch small enough to be considered practical in the kitchen, so I feel your pain, hahaha!

I learned the “hot spoon technique” from a chef (can’t remember his name) on a culinary TV show in Brazil and it works very well,vlike your photos prove.  All the best,
Cris. (aka mensaque)”

I wasted no time in whipping up a custard and trying out the heated spoon method which worked to the book. And letter.

Cris and I, bound by history, culture, place….and the inability to find blowtorches have conquered the brûlée and so can you!


(This assumes already made ‘custards’, which have been chilled for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator)

Remove custards in ramekins from the refrigerator.

Dab the tops with a paper towel to remove any water or condensed liquid.

Evenly sprinkle caster sugar over the top of each custard – I used 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sugar for a normal-sized ramekin.


Heat up a large cooking spoon, being careful to protect your hand from a handle that could get hot. I held mine with a kitchen pad, though it didn’t get extraordinarily hot. BE CAREFUL.

 I used a ladle – as I have 2 ladles, I have decided to dedicate one to a life of caramel, knowing the bottom may be darkened forever. 


Place the heated spoon over the sugared top of custard and listen for the sizzle, smell the caramel and watch burnt sugar being made….right before your eyes!


A work of art! And it only takes a few seconds for the magic to happen!!


You can repeat if not all parts have been heated.


Truth is, you will be rewarded with an impressive, restaurant-style brûlée! Made in your kitchen……without fire and brimstone! And yes, with blackened spoon in tow.


Get stuck in. Crack that crust. Thank me, thank Mensaque. Enjoy yourself!


Now to perfect that custard! Coming soon to a screen near you!

Have you ever come across this idea? Do you have other top tips for creating a brûlée?


  1. Hello! I just want to say thank you for sharing this technique to the internet. I can find kitchen blowtorch in my country but it’s definitely not worth it to buy it for about $25 only to satisfy my on a whim craving of matcha creme brulee. My mom wasn’t happy I had to sacrifice a ladle for it but she definitely couldn’t complain when I served the creme brulee to her. Hehehe, best regards from Indonesia.

  2. I have tried using sugar and water cooked in an old pot until it turns light brown. Plunge the pot into a basin of cold water to stop the cooking process and carefully tip on to the brûlée. Do this not more than 15 minutes before serving.

  3. Hello, thank you for this great tips! But, I wonder if this method works on the top of crepe cake. I just wanted to make sure so please tell me! 😀

  4. What a superb and useful tip. I have an electric cooker at home so no heating of a spoon, but I also have a small torch (no worries of having to smuggle one on a plane). However, at the cabin it is the opposite, flame but no torch. I am keeping this tucked away in my brain because you never know when the need for creme brulee might hit.

  5. WOW! What great tip! My oven has a broiler but it does not broil items evenly. To broil requires moving the items around and around in hopes of consistent results. I will try this soon as I also adore Creme Brulee!

  6. What a great tip. I have not made Creme Brûlée yet, but this will make it worth trying. Your looks amazing. I like the generous size ramekin rather than those tiny Creme Brûlée dishes. 😉

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