Man oh man, I love Creme Brulée. It’s such an elegant, delicately-executed dessert that is also a powerhouse of flavor and technique. And let’s not even forget to mention the part where you use a blowtorch to finish it off. 😉 Directly translated from the French as “burnt cream,” Crème Brulée is a rich egg custard topped with a layer of hard caramel. It has to go through both the slow, delicate cooking process to make the perfect egg custard, then the hard and fast carmelization of sugar crystals sprinkled onto the top, with nothing less than a culinary-grade blow torch. It’s a beautiful yet simple dessert that is both a testament to the skill of the chef and utterly delicious.
Most classic crème brulées are flavored lightly with vanilla, but you can also have ones made with chocolate, orange, coffee, coconut, or any number of liqueurs. While on vacation last week I had a banana Bailey’s creme brulee that was out of this world good. And you wouldn’t expect that good of a dish on a cruise ship! But even with all the different flavors, there’s something so wonderful about a classic vanilla custard brulée. Try one of the most noted crème brulées at Le Cirque today, if you feel that National Crème Brulée Day is a celebration worth dressing a little fancy for. This jacket-and-tie restaurant may seem haughty, but that’s exactly the atmosphere you want when getting some of the best French food in New York. Their brulée is smooth and creamy on the inside, once you crack through the thin, delicious caramel shell on top of the ramekin. It’s an oldie but a goodie, winning the title of Best Crème Brulée in New York by New York Magazine in 2000.
151 E 58th St (between Lexington Ave & 3rd Ave)
“By simply sticking with the basics (vanilla, cream, eggs, and brown sugar), Le Cirque transformed what was originally a homey English pudding into a gold-star standard. The custard is smooth and round on the palate, never pasty or oversweet, but most important, it’s baked in a saucer shallow enough so you get a proper balance of crunch and cream with each bite.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The creme brulee alone is worth the trip. The recipe was written in the ramekin, and I ALMOST took a picture so that I could replicate it at home, but I highly doubt that me + a vat of creme brulee left in a room together would end well….or would it? *evil laugh*”–Karen C.
“For dessert, I got the typical creme brulee, and it was delicious. There were plenty of specks of real vanilla bean. I wish I could have finished it, but I was way too full by then.”–Terren J.
But for those who crave a little oomph with their crème brulée–and for those who don’t have as hefty of a wallet as La Cirque requires–there are lots of unconventional brulées to try in the city. One of which is, surprisingly, in a basement-level sake bar in Midtown. Could you even believe it?! But Sakagura gets rave reviews both for the extensive sake bar and small plates of Japanese dishes to their unique blend of East-meets-West desserts. They offer a sake panna cotta, a millefeuille with Earl Grey ice cream, and a crème brulée with ground black sesame seeds. The black sesame seeds–also in the ice cream that accompanies the dish–gives a nutty, almost bitter complementary taste to the sweet brulée, which, as a straight classic vanilla like the one they serve at La Cirque, is sometimes criticized as too sweet. You definitely will not find anything quite like this anywhere else in New York!
211 E 43rd St, Basement 1 (between 3rd Ave & 2nd Ave)
“Finally, you are ready to move onto desserts! The choices here combine classic Asian flavors like sake, green tea and sesame with western techniques. For the more adventurous palate, the sake panna cotta or the sesame creme brulee is the right choice. Creme brulee is topped with black sesame ice cream to even more enhance the flavor.”–Sometimes I Crave
“My all time favorite DESSERT is their Black Sesame Creme Brulee with black sesame ice cream. I love creme brulee, but this is 10 times better. It has all the great characteristics of creme brulee, but intensified by the fragrant black sesame. The flavors are so deep and rich, there’s no mistake here, no guessing, your having ground black sesame goodness in every bite. Usually after breaking the sugar of my brulee, I’m left wanting a little more crunch along the way, well… this one comes with a black sesame crunch to satisfy.”–Chubby Chinese Girl Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Sesame Creme Brulee: This was an outstanding dessert. I have never seen or tasted anything like it and would have no idea to make something like this. It’s nice to indulge in things you know you cannot make at home! The taste was complex and layered. It carried a faint peanut-buttery flavor and a decisive sesame undertone–so unique! I would absolutely recommend trying this dessert.”–Janine C.
“BLACK SESAME CREME BRULEE: first time ever having creme brulee & i enjoyed every spoonful of it but eating the sugar torched top was the equivalent of someone asking for other people’s pizza crust. You just want more of that ONE thing from it bc its what makes that dish so special, flavorful, & fun. The black sesame ice cream & thing on top of the creme brulee also gives a very aromatic aftertaste that kicks your senses.”–Dorie L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!