Crème brûlée... cake?

Isn't crème brûlée that rich, inch-thick slab of vanilla cream covered with a crackly-crisp, caramelized sugar crust?


So how does cake enter into this?

The King Arthur Flour Web team generates several emails to our customers every week. Some of them focus on merchandise, some on ingredients, some on a special offer.

Some feature recipes. Others, techniques – like the pre-Christmas “Freeze!” email that sent so much traffic to this blog, it actually crashed our site.

Thanks, all 71,000+ of you who visited that particular blog. We were happy to confirm that content does, indeed, generate interest.

Whatever the subject of the email, the recipe for the blog is supposed to match the theme. Some themes – e.g., chocolate – are quite broad, offering us bloggers lots of room to maneuver.

Others are more specific: “We're selling our sourdough starter; do a sourdough bread recipe.”

And others are REALLY specific. Like the one we're sending out this week: crème brûlée.

OK, crème brûlée. What goes with that theme?

Umm... crème brûlée, maybe?

Obvious, but unsatisfactory. Too simple; and besides, it doesn't use my best friend: King Arthur Flour. Also, we sell THE BEST (and easiest) crème brûlée mix; call me lazy, but I just didn't feel like dubbing around with crème brûlée from scratch.

What if... you put crème brûlée on top of cake? Now we're talking.

What if... that cake was sandwiched around rich chocolate filling? (Chocolate, of course, being the perfect companion for vanilla.).

Golden vanilla cake, rich chocolate, vanilla cream...

Ah-HA! Reverse Boston Cream Pie.

Crème Brûlée Boston Cream Pie.

And another recipe is born.

Let's have at it –


If you want to make really good sweet treats, make sure you use really good extracts and flavors. Artificial flavors just don't cut it, taste-wise.

Plus, buying in larger bottles makes economic sense. McCormick pure almond extract at our local chain supermarket is $5.69/ounce. Our Nielsen-Massey almond extract is $2.99/ounce, almost 50% less expensive. And our Sonoma Syrup Vanilla Crush – complete with shredded beans and seeds, for extra body and a gourmet “look,” as well as taste – is 33% less, per ounce, than McCormick pure vanilla extract.

OK, let's go for it: Boston Cream Pie with attitude.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" round pan; or line with parchment, and grease the parchment.


Put the following in a bowl:

2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon almond extract, optional


Beat till thick, and lightened in color.

Combine 4 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup milk, and heat till the butter melts and the milk is very hot. Stir the milk to help the butter along. A microwave works well here.


Add 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour to the egg mixture alternately with the milk/butter, beating gently just till everything is combined.


Like this. The batter may be thinner than you're used to; that's OK.


Pour the thin batter into the prepared pan.


Gently shake the pan to level the batter.


Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the middle springs back when touched lightly, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.


Remove the cake from the oven, and let it rest for about 5 minutes. See how the edges are pulling away from the sides of the pan? This is another sign the cake is fully baked.


Turn the cake out onto a rack, and let it cool completely.


When the cake is completely cool, cut it in half around its circumference, to make a top and bottom half.


Like this.

Put one half, cut side up, on a serving plate.


Next, make the filling. Place the following in a microwave-safe bowl:

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but good
1/3 cup heavy cream


Heat the mixture till it's very hot; the cream will start to form bubbles. Remove from the heat, and stir to melt the chocolate completely.


Keep stirring till the mixture is smooth.


Sift 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, and add it. Yes, you really should sift it; the filling will be smoother if you do.


Pour the chocolate filling over the bottom half of the cake.


Spread it to the edges of the cake.


Center the other half of the cake atop the filling, pressing it down gently.


This is what you have to do when, like me, you FORGET to put the cake on a serving plate before you start. Giant spatula to the rescue!


Make the topping. A simple instant vanilla pudding, enhanced with some extra flavor, is super-easy.

Combine the following:

1 regular-size (not large) package instant vanilla pudding mix
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Spread the pudding atop the cake.


A bowl scraper does a good job smoothing the top.

Refrigerate the cake till just before serving time.


Just before you're ready to serve the cake (or up to an hour or so before), sprinkle it evenly with 1/3 to 1/2 cup coarse white sparkling sugar.

Oh boy, here comes the fun part... I've never used a chef's torch before. First, I'd better practice on some leftover boiled sugar syrup.


Yup, turns it brown all right.


Look at that! I'm not even scared.

This torch is easy to use, and has all the appropriate safeguards to keep hesitant fire-wielders (like me) safe from harm. It's currently on back order, but is supposed to be in on Friday. If you've ever considered buying a chef's torch, I recommend this one highly.


Then I decide to do a side-by-side test of regular granulated sugar (on the right), and coarse sparkling white sugar (on the left). The coarse sugar melts more evenly; the granulated tends to clump up in pools. Coarse sugar it is.


As I run the torch along the edge, some of the sugar dribbles down the side of the cake – quite decoratively, I must say.


OK, what if you don't have a torch? You can still give this cake a crunchy caramelized sugar topping (top of photo); it's just a bit more involved.


And chunkier; like rock candy, rather than a crackly-crisp, ice-thin coating.

In retrospect, I should have crushed this sugar more finely. Do as I say, not as I did!


Combine 1 cup granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons water in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat till the sugar is completely dissolved.


Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, without stirring.  I didn't have a cover to fit this pan; I think it would have been better if I did, because there was still some crunchy stuff on the sides of the pan after it had boiled for 3 minutes.


Remove the cover, and continue to boil, swirling the pan regularly to prevent "hot spots." If you need to stir, make sure your spatula has been rinsed clean; you don't want to introduce any undissolved sugar crystals into the syrup at this point. Apparently sugar crystals – on the side of the pan, or on a spatula – can make your caramelized sugar lumpy.


When the syrup is a light-to-medium golden brown, remove it from the heat...


...and pour it onto a piece of parchment, or onto a lightly greased pan.

Allow it to cool completely, then crush it into small pieces, the smaller the better (without pulverizing it entirely). Placing it in a plastic bag and whacking it with a heavy saucepan or rolling pin works well.


Uh-oh... Look what happened. This was another attempt at caramelizing sugar.

Well, I'm not about to throw it all out. Not yet, anyway. Let's see what happens if I just keep stirring.


HA! Everything dissolved. Must be beginners' luck, because my fellow test bakers told me it was a goner.


So here's a darker version (the “mistake,” at left); and a lighter version of caramelized sugar.


I prefer the darker version.

Hmmm... These sugar chunks might be just perfect in our sugar waffle recipe. Haven't tried them, no guarantees, but they look like the right size and consistency. If anyone tries, let me know how the waffles turn out.


Sprinkle the caramelized sugar chunks atop the cake. Obviously, these are much less delicate than caramelizing the sugar with a torch. But they're tasty, nonetheless.

And these larger chunks do stay crunchy longer than the more delicate caramelized topping. In fact, while the “torched” sugar won't stay crunchy under refrigeration, this one will – up to a point. (What point, I'm not sure; the cake didn't last that long. I wouldn't advise refrigerating this cake with the sugar topping more than 12 hours before serving.)

Read, rate, and review (please) our recipe for Crème Brûlée Boston Cream Pie.

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

View all posts by PJ Hamel