Creme brulee, a silky custard featuring a thin layer of caramelized sugar on top, relies on the richness of heavy cream for its creaminess. Whether you wish to lighten the dish or simply are out of cream, you can substitute another ingredient and still produce a tasty version of the dessert. The final product may taste thinner, less rich or even slightly firmer, depending on which substitution you try. Choose a replacement ingredient for part or all of the heavy cream based on your personal tastes and how closely you want your version to mimic the classic dessert.
Made with Milk
Replace part or all of the heavy cream in your recipe with whole milk. The custard will still form and taste good, but will have a much lighter mouthfeel than it would with cream. Alternatively, use half-and-half cream instead of the heavy cream. This option strikes a balance between the heaviness of the traditional creme brulee and the better-for-you lightness of the dessert made with milk. The extra fat in the half-and-half will add richness while reducing the overall caloric impact.
Crazy for Coconut
For a dairy-free version of creme brulee, replace the heavy cream in your recipe with coconut milk. Use the full-fat version to ensure there is enough fat for the custard to form. This option will result in a distinct coconut flavor to your creme brulee, so only use this substitution if you enjoy the taste. For an even richer creme brulee, add additional coconut fat to your recipe on top of the coconut milk which replaces the cream. Chill a can of coconut milk in your refrigerator. Once chilled, skim off the top layer of fat that separated during refrigeration and add it to the rest of the ingredients, discarding the coconut water left in the can.
For a firmer and richer version of creme brulee, replace part of the heavy cream with cream cheese or mascarpone, a soft Italian cheese. While mascarpone features a very mild flavor, cream cheese does have a distinct tanginess that you may detect in the final product. Once baked, the creme brulee will be thicker than one made with only heavy cream, but will remain silky as long as it's properly mixed. This option only works for partial replacement of the heavy cream; using a creamy cheese alone will not result in a custard-like texture. You may substitute another form of dairy for the cream, though, in combination with the cheese.
Substitute Greek yogurt for the heavy cream in your recipe for a rich creme brulee of similar consistency to the original. Choose a plain variety of Greek yogurt; even vanilla-flavored varieties feature significant amounts of added sugar. Additionally, make sure to use Greek yogurt with at least 2 percent fat, but preferably a full-fat version, to get the best mouthfeel. You might notice a slight tanginess to the final dessert, but adding a bit of extra vanilla and a touch more sugar will help to balance this.