Creme brulee cupcakes are tender vanilla cupcakes with a creamy filling, vanilla frosting, and a torched topping! This creme brulee cupcake recipe is a perfect treat for birthdays, showers, or any time you don’t want to choose between cupcake and creme brulee!
If you love creme brulee but want a cupcake, this is your recipe! As far as gourmet cupcakes go, this is an excellent option most people will love. The cupcake’s primary flavor is vanilla, so most picky eaters are willing to try them.
Naturally, if you enjoy the nuanced flavors of vanilla and sugar in creme brulee, you’ll love these cupcakes too. My vanilla-philes know that vanilla is anything but boring!
Components of the Creme Brulee Cupcakes
This cupcake recipe is made of three primary parts. Four, maybe, if you count the burnt sugar topping. The jury is still out on that.
The first portion of the cupcake is a vanilla cake base. Similar to my perfect vanilla cupcake recipe, these cupcakes are tender, fluffy, and loaded with vanilla flavor!
The second part of the cupcake is the filling! The filling, my vanilla pastry creme, is a must. In fact, it’s the part of the recipe that got the most delighted comments from what I could tell!
I created this recipe for a friend’s baby shower. She said her favorite dessert was creme brulee, but we were planning on making cupcakes for the shower. Why not a creme brulee cupcake, right?
I think we had three flavors of cupcakes at the shower. I don’t think there was one leftover of the creme brulee variety because everyone thought it was so fun!
Creme Brulee Cupcake Filling
To fill these cupcakes, I used a classic pastry cream. Pastry cream, or creme patisserie, is the same kind of all-purpose filling you’d find in desserts like eclairs, cream puffs, and napoleons. I have an easy-to-follow recipe to make your own here.
But because I do understand that sometimes life happens. The last time I was at the store, I snooped around the baking aisle a bit and found that they do indeed sell powdered pastry cream mix that works like making instant pudding.
Can’t find the pastry cream mix? You could probably substitute a vanilla bean pudding. I’ll warn you that the flavor won’t be as rich at all. The texture will be slightly different. But it will probably still taste good. I haven’t tried it because I really really really like my pastry cream recipe that much. Any reason to make it is a good reason. Once you try it, you’ll understand.
If the deciding factor between making cupcakes and not is the filling, make the cupcakes, figure out the filling.
The reason I use a pastry cream filling instead of a baked custard as in classic creme brulee is twofold. First, the cupcake and custard would bake at different rates, so you couldn’t bake them together.
Second, using a pastry creme allows me to spread out the work a bit! I suppose you could bake a creme brulee, cool it, then spoon it into the cupcakes. It won’t look as pretty though, and the contrast in textures between the cake and the filling won’t be as sharp. Pastry cream provides a smooth and creamy contrast to the fluffy cupcake.
Creme Brulee Cupcake Topping
Finally, we top the cupcakes with a vanilla frosting and burnt sugar topping. Because there’s something immensely satisfying about breaking the sugar crust on creme brulee, I opted to create the same crust on the cupcakes instead of a “fancier” broken burnt sugar topper.
To get this to work, you need time, and ideally, a kitchen torch!
You need time because the cupcakes need to be cold when you torch them. You can see the the frosting melts slightly under the heat of the kitchen torch. To minimize melting, you need to chill the frosted cupcakes about 30 minutes until the frosting is solid.
If you want to speed up the process, 15 minutes in the freezer will work too. You don’t want the cupcakes to freeze solid though, because of the filling. If you used pudding, that doesn’t freeze well at all, and you don’t want separation.
Once the frosting is well chilled, coat the top of the cupcake with sugar and torch. The process is really quick, and then the cupcakes can sit out a bit before serving.
Alternative burnt sugar cupcake toppers if you don’t have a kitchen torch
We need to talk about this for two reasons. First, not everyone owns a kitchen torch, but you might still want these cupcakes. So instead of running out to buy something, we can find an alternative.
The other reason, and one I nearly discovered personally at an event, is that sometimes, one runs out of torch fuel unexpectedly. Thankfully, my torch died just after the last cupcake was brulee’d, but what if it hadn’t? These are the things that keep me up at night.
Please don’t put the cupcakes in the broiler. While this is a workable option for actual creme brulee, it’s not here. You’ll melt the buttercream frosting.
You have two options. The first is to use a long-neck lighter like the kind you use for the grill. Chill the cupcakes well, and then top with sugar and hold the lighter flame close. You can get a decent burn on the sugar and a thin crunchy topping on the cupcakes.
The second option is to add crunch by making sugar glass toppers for your cupcakes. You’d simply make a sheet of sugar toppers, break it into pieces, and top your cupcakes. For a dramatic look, leave the shards on the larger side. For an easier-to-manage crunch, break the sugar “glass” into smaller pieces. You can find a tutorial for making sugar glass on this blog.
Finally, while the cupcakes are beautiful as is, I’d recommend adding a little color with a sliced strawberry, a blueberry or two, or maybe even a bit of edible gold foil. While you don’t see that in these photos, it really makes these creme brulee cupcakes extra stunning!
A few final notes about timing…
If you need to split up the prep for the cupcakes, make the filling, bake the cupcakes, and prepare the frosting in advance. You can assemble the cupcakes up to a day ahead of time with the filling and frosting and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
For food safety, plan to torch and serve the cupcakes within a 4 hour window if they’ve been at room temperature. Room temperature for food safety is defined as 72 F. If your room is warmer than that, the window shortens.
Any extra cupcakes can be stored in the fridge for a few days. The crunchy topping will soften a bit. That’s best the day it’s done.
I hope you love this recipe, darlings. Happy baking!
- 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup neutral-flavored oil
- 1 large egg
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup sour cream, room temperature
- 2/3 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 2 cups milk (see notes)
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (see notes)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch (see notes)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Find the full pastry cream recipe details here(see notes)
- 1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened (see notes)
- 3-4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- Caviar from 1 vanilla bean, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract, or 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar for making the sugar crust
- strawberries, blueberries, or gold leaf as accent toppers
- Prepare your pastry cream and place it in the refrigerator to chill while you make the cupcakes.
- Set a fine-mesh sieve over a heat-proof bowl and set it aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, or right in the saucepan if you'd like, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add the egg yolks and beat until well combined and light yellow.
- While whisking continuously, slowly pour in your milk and keep whisking until smooth and homogenous.
- If you didn't mix right in the pot, transfer your mixture to a small saucepan (2-2.5 quarts).
- Set the pot over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly, until small bubbles start to form.
- Once the mixture starts to bubble slightly, whisk for another minute until it's rather thick and the whisk leaves small trails in the cream.
- Remove the pastry cream from the heat and stir in the butter. Keep whisking until it's melted.
- Pour the mixture through the sieve to remove any accidental lumps. Press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper directly over the surface of the pastry cream. This prevents the formation of skin on the surface of the custard. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or up to 2 days before making the cupcakes.
- To Make the cupcakes: Preheat your oven to 350 F and line a cupcake pan with 12 liners. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
- In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the butter, oil, vanilla, sour cream, and egg.
- With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined.
- Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full.
- Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes until a tester inserted in a center cupcake comes out clean and the top of a cupcake springs back when lightly touched.
- Remove from the oven and allow the cupcakes to rest for 3-5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.
- Prepare your frosting by creaming the butter until soft. Add the vanilla and salt, if using. Stir in the powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time on low speed until your desired consistency is reached.
- Once the cupcakes are completely cool, us a cupcake corer or paring knife to cut out the center of each cupcake, about halfway down the cupcake. You want to leave some cake as a base for the filling.
- Pipe a ring of buttercream frosting around the cupcake crater and fill with your pastry cream.
- Chill the cupcakes for 30 minutes until the frosting is very cold and hard.
- Top each cupcake with granulated sugar and use a kitchen torch to create a burnt sugar crust.
- Add a sliced strawberry or blueberry as a garnish, if desired. Enjoy!
- Leftover cupcakes can be stored up to 2 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- The link for the pastry cream goes to my recipe, which is what you see here. You may substitute with instant pastry cream or prepared pastry cream if you are short on time. Homemade is totally worth it though! For simplicity, I've given you instructions for making the pastry cream here. For all the details though, click through to the other post.
- If you don't have a cupcake corer, use a paring knife. Make the cupcake tops into mini trifles or cake pops!
- If you are using salted butter for your buttercream frosting, omit the salt in the recipe.
- I add the vanilla bean caviar because it's pretty, but you can skip it and use vanilla extract in the frosting for your vanilla flavor.
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