How to caramelise sugar on creme brulee without a torch

Updated April 17, 2017

Creme brulee is a delicate French dessert of simple vanilla cream custard with a caramelised sugar top. Professional chefs use a small torch to brown the top, which can be a frustration for home cooks who don't have one of these tools. Luckily there are two methods that make caramelising sugar possible at home. It takes a bit more time than the torch, but it is just as effective for that crunchy caramel topping.

Grill method

Preheat the grill to its highest setting. Line the tray with the towel, then place the individual creme brulees inside. Make sure that there is space between each of the custard cups.

Pour ice water into the tray so that the custards stay cool under the grill.

Sprinkle the top of each brulee with the sugar, than place tray under the grill. The tray should be about 6 to 7 cm from the grill.

Watch carefully, when the sugar browns take the tray out and serve immediately.

Pan method

Place the heavy frying pan or skillet on the hob and turn the heat on medium high. Add the sugar and cook without using a spoon to stir.

Shake the pan to keep an even heat. When the sugar begins to melt, lower the heat and cook until the sugar is melted (about five minutes). The sugar will be a caramel colour. Stir as needed with a wooden spoon.

Take the pan off the heat and immediately drizzle the sugar over each custard. If the sugar begins to harden while pouring, return the pan to the heat and wait until it melts again.


Gas cookers are best for the broiling method because it is difficult to get electric grills hot enough to properly caramelise the sugar.


Cold glass containers can shatter under heat; use caution when taking the tray out of the oven.

Things You'll Need

  • 1/4 cup white or brown sugar
  • Ice water
  • Large oven-safe tray
  • Towel
  • Heavy frying pan or skillet
  • Wooden spoon
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About the Author

Jessica Davis has been a professional writer since 2005. She has worked in various media outlets, writing for a bricklaying trade publication, several research companies and her favorite: a major entertainment company in Washington where she produced scripts and online content. Davis earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism.