Crème brûlée has appeared on dessert menus since at least the mid-18th century. And no wonder. The cream of the custard and the crunch of the caramelized sugar go perfectly together. It may take you a few tries to make a tasty custard, but caramelizing the sugar on top can be mastered on your first attempt.
Getting that crisp, golden brown crust starts with using proper sugar. If possible, always use ultra-fine white sugar, which is available in most grocery stores. The tiny sugar crystals are easier to spread and caramelize than anything else. If you can't find it, regular white sugar will work. Brown sugar doesn't spread and it's difficult to light.
Once you have the right sugar, you have to get the right blowtorch. Cooking stores do sell special kitchen blowtorches, but one you've bought from the hardware store will work just as well. Just make sure that the blowtorch can be set to a thin blue flame.
Spreading the Sugar
The final step in getting that perfect brown crust is all about technique. Before you start, ensure that the custard is cool to the touch; it makes it much easier to spread the sugar. Once it is cool, pour sugar on top of the custard and then shake the ramekin until a thin, even line of crystals covers the crème.
Using the Blowtorch
When you're ready to caramelize, set your blowtorch to a thin blue flame and hold it a few inches away from the sugar. Use a pot holder to turn the ramekin as you transform the sugar into a brown caramel crust. The longer you hold the flame in one spot, the darker the caramel will be. Try using small circular movements with the blowtorch as you slowly move the ramekin.
There will always be hazards when using flames in the kitchen, but there are ways to minimize them. Before lighting your blowtorch, visually inspect it for any physical damage that may allow propane to leak. If you're unsure if it's safe to use, take it to a propane fueling station and ask a professional. When you do light it, use a low flame over the sugar to avoid burning the sugar and damaging the ramekin.