Nancy E. McIntyre, Ph.D.

Lavender crème brûlée (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated classic crème brûlée recipe)

Serves 8

OK, so this recipe has a lot of steps, takes some specialized gear (although most of the items will already be present in a well-stocked kitchen), and takes some time (make it early in the morning or a day ahead so that it can chill). But it is absolutely the smoothest, creamiest, richest crème brûlée you will ever taste. I’ve tasted crème brûlée in some nice restaurants all over the world, and nothing has been as good as this recipe.   

If you don’t like lavender (why not?), just omit it. This recipe can be adapted to make coffee crème brûlée (just use crushed coffee beans instead of lavender) or chai crème brûlée (use tea leaves instead of lavender and add a pinch of cinnamon). Just don’t try to substitute other ingredients (like vanilla extract for the vanilla pod), and don’t do any shortcuts. This recipe hinges upon technique. As long as you follow the instructions, it will turn out fine.   

Time needed:

Prep – 20 min

Cooking – 35 min

Cooling to room temperature – 2 hours

Chilling – 4 hours to overnight 


4 c heavy cream, chilled

2/3 c sugar

Pinch salt

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

12 large egg yolks

3 Tbsp culinary lavender

8-12 tsp sugar for brulee-ing (see note at end)


Medium saucepan

Double-ply cheesecloth

Kitchen twine


Sharp knife (e.g. paring knife)


Large bowl

Tea towel or thin kitchen towel

Roasting pan

Tea kettle or a second saucepan to boil water

8 4- to 5-oz baking ramekins

Instant-read thermometer

Wire rack

Plastic wrap

Brûlée torch


  1. Place oven rack in lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. Place the lavender into the cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with kitchen twine.
  3. Combine 2 c of the cream, 2/3 c sugar, and salt in the saucepan. Using a knife, scrape the vanilla beans from the pod into the pan; add the pod. Add the lavender bundle. Bring this mixture just to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Take the pan off the heat and let steep for 15 minutes.
  4. While the cream mixture steeps, place a tea towel or thin kitchen towel in the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the ramekins on the towel.
  5. Bring a tea kettle full of water to the boil. How much water? You’ll need enough to fill the roasting pan to come 2/3rds of the way up the ramekins (see step 9). That’s usually about 1 full kettle.
  6. After cream mixture has steeped, stir in the remaining 2 cup of cream. Fish out the lavender bundle and the vanilla bean pod.
  7. Whisk the egg yolks in the large bowl until well-mixed. Add 1 cup of the cream mixture to the yolks, whisking to combine. Repeat with another cup of the cream mixture. Repeat again with the rest of the cream mixture. (Do not try to skip this gradual addition of cream to yolks—you’ll be sorry if you do.)
  8. Strain the mixture, discarding the solids. (You’ll be surprised at the amount of gunk!) Pour the strained mixture into the ramekins.
  9. Place the roasting pan with ramekins onto the oven rack. Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan so that the water reaches 2/3rds the height of the ramekins. This is called a water bath, or bain Marie, and it is necessary to cook the brûlée to a creamy texture. Do not even think of skipping this step.
  10. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the center of one of the brûlées (make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom or sides) reads 175 degrees. That generally takes round ramekins the full time.
  11. Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack (be careful—they’ll be hot!). Cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
  12. Once cooled to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap. Place into refrigerator and let cool at least 4 hours.
  13. Do not brûlée until you are ready to serve, lest the crystalline crust becomes soggy. Remove the brûlées from the fridge and remove the plastic wrap. If there is any condensation on the brûlées, use a paper towel to dab it up. Sprinkle 1-1.5 tsp of sugar evenly onto the top of each brûlée and use torch to caramelize. Serve immediately.

Note: I have tried using different types of sugar for the caramelized top, including superfine sugar (baking sugar), turbinado (sugar in the raw), brown sugar, and plain sugar. Plain sugar gives a great result, and it’s cheaper than turbinado (my 2nd choice).