vanilla and lemon crème brulee
vanilla and lemon crème brulee

Vanilla Crème Brulee with Lemon

If you love classic crème brulee, you might be surprised how much you love this lemon version. You taste so much of the vanilla but get just a lovely lemon crunch from the topping. Simply marvelous!

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 38 minutes
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Recipe Rundown

There’s nothing wrong with classic vanilla crème brûlée but sometimes you want something a tad brighter–even just a drop of lemon makes vanilla spectacularly more interesting. That’s what this crème brulee recipe is all about. Dynamism!

lemon and vanilla crème brulee

Tap. Tap. Crunch. Eye-brow raise. That is the scene I want to paint you. You simply can’t help be surprised by the subtle, yet striking, lemon flavor that sort of hits you a moment after the vanilla. It’s really pleasant, and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself.

P.S. We really love lemons around here (and vanilla). There’s also this creamy, very lemony ice cream. These creamy lemon possets (like crème brulee minus the crunch), and meyer lemon bars.

Vanilla Crème with Lemon Brulee Recipe

Brûlée: to burn.

What are we burning today? Why, lemon infused sugar, of course!

If you infuse the sugar topping with fresh lemon peel, what you get is this amazing crackly, lemon-marshmallowy top layer. It’s an unexpected twist to the traditional crème brulee experience.

vanilla bean creme brulee with lemon sugar topping and lemon zest

Basically, the oils from the lemon peel seep into the sugar adding plenty of gorgeous lemon essence. You just use the sugar and discard the peel (which is bitter and overpowering when burned).

vanilla creme brulee with lemon torched under broiler

Grab your apron and let’s celebrate lemon season crème brulee style!

Top Tips for Making Lemony Crème Brulee at Home

Broiler Method: Usually the problem with making creme brulee at home is how to create a thin enough crunch on top of the creme. Many recipes require the use of a small culinary propane torch. While fun, it’s not an everyday appliance, whereas most people have a broiler setting in their oven.

Use less sugar: My best tip is to use only a teaspoon of sugar per ramekin. More sugar makes it much too hard to tap-tap-break with a spoon.

High fat cream and chill: Vanilla crème brulee is such an exquisitely rich and elegant dessert but if you don’t use high fat cream and chill long enough, it can be soupy instead of creamy. If you are looking for a slightly lighter version, you can replace up to 1 cup with half and half (just be sure to use 1 cup heavy cream).

Infusing sugar takes time: While your custard is chilling, make your sugar+lemon zest and set to the side so it gets good and lemony. It’s normal for the sugar to appear wet and clump together (that’s how you know it’s working).


A water bath is where you fill halfway up the sides of the ramekin. This technique allows the custard to cook slowly and evenly when transferred to the oven.

water bath with ramekins filled with vanilla custard

6-Ingredients = One Heck of a Crème Brulee

heavy cream, vanilla bean, salt, egg yolks, granulated sugar, lemon

It’s really amazing how few ingredients you need to make a remarkably good crème brulee. You will need:

  • heavy cream: provides the right balance of fat and ensures the texture will thicken and set as it chills 
  • vanilla: use a good quality vanilla extract or a vanilla bean for the purest flavor
  • salt: just a pinch of sea salt will really enhance the flavors
  • egg yolks: for a rich and flavorful custard
  • granulated sugar: gives the custard a sweet flavor and is used for the topping
  • lemon: we are only using the outside rind/zest to flavor the sugar that gets caramelized

Let’s Look at the Steps

As you can see, I am using a split vanilla bean to infuse the custard mixture, but you could just as easily use vanilla extract.

Step 1- Make Custard Mixture.

Step 2 – Bake. Chill. Make Lemon Sugar.

Step 3 – Serve.

lemon zest over lemon infused brulee topping creme brulee with vanilla bean

Notice how the broiler method can leave the topping a bit rustic looking? I love this effect and think it makes this crème brulee really unique. The bits of sugar that are a bit moist get extra charred, which imparts even more campfire marshmallowy goodness.

Lemon crème brulee in Lemon

While I love especially shallow ramekins for crème brulee (you get more crunchy topping to filling), you could try setting a hollowed out lemon cut lengthwise on top of a ramekin and filling the lemon peel with the crème brulee. Not only is it eye-catching, it tells you what flavors you are about to taste. Due to moisture, you should serve this right away because it will cause your dessert to sweat.

Storing and preserving homemade lemon sugar

lemon zest in bowl with sugar

Your leftover lemon sugar will last for many months stored in a sealed bag or container (if it makes it that far). You could totally use the lemon sugar inside the custard portion of this recipe! Another idea is to use it to further enhance homemade lemonade.


Since we are using the zest to infuse the sugar, you could try any citrus. I don’t add the zest to the crème because I like the smoothness of vanilla, but you could add the zest finely grated if you want a more intense citrus flavor.


Can you freeze crème brulee?

No. For the best texture, I recommend refrigerating crème brulee and enjoying fresh.

How to store crème brulee?

Wrap the custard tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 days. When ready to serve, unwrap then add the sugar and broil immediately. Serve bruleed custard right away.

Can creme brulee be made ahead?

You can make it ahead up to the custard stage just be sure to wait until the last moment to torch or broil the sugar-topping for the right amount of crunch.

More Citrus Desserts for You

crème brulee with fresh lemon and vanilla


If you love classic crème brulee, you might be surprised how much you love this lemon version. You taste so much of the vanilla but get just a lovely lemon crunch from the topping. Simply marvelous!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: custard
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 38 minutes
Chill Time:: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 43 minutes
Servings: 4 ramekins
Calories: 584kcal
Author: Chef Sara Furcini


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ½ cup granulated sugar plus ¼ cup for lemon-sugar topping
  • 1 lemon


  • Make custard mixture. Preheat oven to 325F. In a saucepan over low heat, combine cream, vanilla bean and salt. Cook just until hot (do not simmer/boil). Let sit for a few minutes then discard vanilla bean (add vanilla extract now, if using). In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together for 1 minute. Stir about a quarter of the vanilla mixture into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir.
  • Bake, chill and make lemon sugar. Place four 6-ounce ramekins in a baking dish then divide custard mixture into each cup; open the oven door and set the baking dish with ramekins on top then pour boiling hot water halfway up the sides to create a water bath. Transfer carefully to the oven and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the center is barely set. Cool completely. Refrigerate for several hours and up to a couple days. Use a peeler to remove one big strip of lemon peel. In a small bowl or ramekin, combine the lemon peel strip with ¼ cup sugar. Stir to distribute the sugar around the lemon peel. Set aside to infuse.
  • Serve. When ready to serve, use the back of a spoon to break up any clumps of sugar then top each custard with an evenly distributed teaspoon of lemon sugar. It’s important to form a thin layer so it can easily be cracked by a light tap of a spoon. Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Serve within 2 hours.



Serving: 1ramekin | Calories: 584kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 49g | Saturated Fat: 30g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 377mg | Sodium: 53mg | Potassium: 175mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 2080IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 115mg | Iron: 1mg

Photography by Adam Rahman

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