Try this eggless Cardamom and Saffron Crème Brûlée for an amazing take on the classic. There are subtle spices running through every bite. The crème brûlée is finished with a crackly caramelised sugar crust and topped with nuts and fragrant rose petals.
Crème brûlée is one of those desserts that just screams elegance and simplicity at the same time.
It’s a combination that’s rare, but this elegant and simple treat is one that’s so deeply treasured.
This is my vegan take on the classic crème brûlée with flavours that I adore. It’s finished with the classic sugar crust and a few simple garnishes. It’s truly a thing of beauty and something you should make for the people you love…
…or for yourself, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of self love.
What is a crème brûlée?
For anyone who may not know, a crème brûlée is a dessert which consists of a set custard base that’s topped with a layer of hardened caramelised sugar. It’s light, yet rich and has the perfect combination of textures.
The custard itself is smooth and the sugar crust has the perfect brittleness to add just enough of a bite. The caramelisation of the sugar also adds depth and a very slight bitterness which marries well with the sweet custard.
However traditionally the recipe is heavily egg based due to the role the eggs play when making a custard.
There are two variations of crème brûlée, the French method and the Spanish crema catalana (Catalan cream). The French method involves using cream to make the custard whilst the Spanish method uses milk.
I’ve based this recipe more on the crema catalana method because I much prefer the lighter custard when it’s milk based. Crema catalana also utilises cornflour to help thicken the custard, which is the same concept that will be used for my recipe.
The second layer of these desserts are a burnt sugar/caramelised sugar crust. This is one of the best bits in my opinion. A thin and crackly layer of sugar that’s caramelised with a blowtorch or under the grill until deeply browned.
It’s this layer that provides additional sweetness and a touch of bitterness. A slight tap with a spoon and the caramelised layer just cracks open, revealing that beautiful caramel. It’s perfection.
Custard based desserts like the crème brûlée and crema catalana are hugely dependent on getting the texture of the custard perfect. It must be smooth, silken and glossy, with a rich mouthfeel in order to truly do it justice.
If you’re looking for a cardamom and saffron crème brûlée that’s:
- Eggless and easily veganised
- Minimal hands on work
- Looks elegant
Then this is the recipe for you.
Cardamom and saffron crème brûlée
A quick browse across the desserts on my website will show you just how much I love these two ingredients. Hence it was a no brainer to add them into this crème brûlée.
The spices add an abundance of warmth and fragrance, with a beautiful floral note running through the custard due to the saffron. They are flavours I adore, and the combination of vanilla, cardamom, and saffron is a triple threat that could elevate plenty of desserts.
The cardamom that is used in this recipe are the green variety, which can be recognised by their green papery outer shell and the black seeds within. They are different from black cardamom which is traditionally much larger and has a very smoky aroma and flavour.
Green cardamom provide a herbaceous warmth, whilst also being slightly citrusy and minty at the same time. It’s quite a complex flavour and fragrance, but it works perfectly within the custard.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and hence I’d advise to use it sparingly. Fortunately it’s a spice where a little goes a long way and a small pinch of it will suffice to impart it’s beautiful aroma and flavour to this dessert.
A small pinch of those deep red strands will impart a sweet floral note to the custard. It adds depth and a floral fragrance as it infuses within the milk. In order to get the most out of saffron it needs to be used correctly.
The strands can be toasted and ground into a powder which helps them to infuse more quickly and with more potency. Or just simply crushing the strands coarsely between the palm of your hands and allowing it to infuse in a warm liquid will also help to release its flavour.
Eggless cardamom and saffron crème brûlée? How?
I’ve opted to make this dessert eggless, though plant based alternatives can easily be used if desired. The plant based milk and butter are interchangeable in this recipe with the dairy equivalents. This makes it perfect for anyone who follows a vegan diet.
Because there are no eggs in this recipe, the basis of the custard involves a different method compared to the traditional recipe. For a traditional crème brûlée custard the egg yolks are whisked with sugar until pale and fluffy.
The cream/milk are then heated to just a boil and gradually added to the egg mixture. This hot mixture is poured into ramekins then baked in a water bath till just set. They are then finally refrigerated till completely cold.
Without eggs it is an entirely different process. Thus I’ll cover it in more detail in the step by step further down in the blogpost. Essentially the eggless custard relies solely on starch as the thickening and setting agent.
For this recipe I’m going to be using cornflour (cornflour in the UK/corn starch in the US). As the starch activates under heat, the custard will already begin to thicken as it cooks on the stove. Hence there will be no water bath, oven, or baking involved.
The custard with further set once in the fridge.
The custard itself is quite simple and the main three ingredients are the milk, cornflour and the butter. The addition of butter towards the end is not traditional for a custard. However it adds a layer of richness and the perfect glossy shine.
The cornflour also helps to form a stable emulsion between the milk and the butter. This ensures that there are no greasy droplets of butter running through the custard.
The famous brûlée
The crunch to the crème brûlée.
A quick translation from French turns up as burnt, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a seriously simple step that carries boldness in flavour and texture. The burnt refers to the process of layering the top of the cooled custard with white granulated sugar.
This is then heated with a blowtorch or under a grill until it turns deep brown. This is then cooled at room temperature for a minute or so to allow the crust to harden. Thus forming an incredible thin and brittle caramelised sugar layer.
The perfect topping for the cardamom and saffron crème brûlée.
What you’ll need to make this cardamom and saffron crème brûlée
The full recipe can be found at the end of the blogpost
For the ingredients you’ll need:
- Milk or plant based milk (oat and soya milk work the best)
- Jaggery or sugar
- Cornflour – not the yellow coarse corn meal. This is called cornflour in the UK and corn starch in the US
- Vanilla extract or vanilla beans
- Green cardamom
- Pinch of turmeric (optional – for colour)
- Additional sugar for the caramelised layer
- Nuts for garnish – I’ve used pistachio but toasted almonds or cashew would also work. Or even a mix of the three!
- Dried rose petals for garnish
- Kitchen blowtorch
- 4 ramekins – I’ve used glass ramekins that have a height of 6cm and hold 180ml of liquid
How to make this cardamom and saffron crème brûlée
1) Briefly toast the cardamom for 2-3 minutes on a low heat until fragrant and the husks feel ‘crisp’
2) Transfer to a pestle and mortar and lightly bash open. Remove as much of the green husks as possible – this does not need to be completely perfect
3) Grind the cardamom to a fine powder and keep aside
4) Place milk of choice in a saucepan
5+6) Add your jaggery (or sugar) and cornflour to the milk. Break up the jaggery as small as possible to allow it to easily dissolve. As soon as the cornflour is added, immediately whisk to dissolve. If left the cornflour will clump and adhere to the base of the saucepan
7) Keep whisking until no lumps of cornflour remain
8) Then add ground cardamom, vanilla, and saffron. Roughly break the saffron between your fingertips as this will allow for more flavour to be released
9+10) Add a pinch of turmeric (optional) and whisk to dissolve, you won’t immediately see the colour as it will develop once the mixture boils. Therefore REFRAIN from adding more
11) Place the mixture on a low heat and continue to mix for several minutes until the jaggery/sugar has dissolved
12) Once dissolved place the mixture on a medium-high heat and mix until thickened. The final consistency should be thick but pourable
13) Once the mixture has thickened, add the butter and place on a low heat. Whisk until incorporated
14) Whilst the mixture is still hot, pour equally into 4 ramekins and allow to cool for 1 hour
15) After 1 hour, cover each ramekin with clingfilm or a lid and place into the refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours
16) Right before serving, pour sugar over the top of the set custard and flatten with the back of a spoon into a thin even layer
17+18) Using a blowtorch, heat up the sugar until caramelised all over. Alternatively place under a grill for the same effect (just make sure the ramekins are heat proof). Allow the crème brûlée to stand for 2-3 minutes to allow the caramelised sugar layer to set
19) Garnish with finely sliced nuts and dried rose petals. Serve immediately as the sugar layer will melt into a pool of sugary water if left
Can the crème brûlée be prepared in advance?
The custard part can be prepared 24-48 hours in advance. The caramelised sugar layer needs to be done right before serving as it will melt into sugary water if left.
Can brown sugar be used for the caramelised sugar layer?
This is a bit more tricky, as the brown sugar contains molasses. Molasses provide moisture but also make it more difficult to caramelise. It’s better in my opinion to stick with white granulated sugar as it’s easier to caramelise into a thin and brittle layer.
Can the crème brûlée be made vegan?
Yes, and actually the batch I made and shot for this recipe was vegan. I used soy milk and vegan butter. However oat milk works perfectly too.
Cardamom and Saffron Crème Brûlée
- Kitchen blowtorch
- 4 ramekins I’ve used ones with a 6cm height and can hold 180ml liquid
- 600 ml milk or oat/soya milk
- 50 g jaggery or sugar
- 40 g corn flour
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
- 8 green cardamom or 1.5tsp ground cardamom
- 20 g butter around 1.5tbsp (vegan butter works)
- Pinch of saffron
- 1/8 tsp turmeric optional for colour
- 4 tbsp white granulated sugar
- Small handful of nuts roughly chopped pistachios, toasted almonds or cashew nuts
- Dried rose petals optional
- First toast your green cardamom pods on a low heat for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a pestle and mortar
- Lightly bash the pods open and remove as much of the green husks as you can and grind the cardamom to a fine powder
- Place the milk into a saucepan and add your jaggery or sugar. If using jaggery try to break this apart or roughly chop to help it dissolve more readily
- Add in the cornflour to the saucepan and immediately whisk to dissolve completely, no lumps should remain
- Add the vanilla, cardamom, and turmeric (if using). Break the saffron strands up between your palms or fingers and add this too. Whisk to combine
- Place the mixture on a low heat and continue to mix for several minutes until the jaggery/sugar has completely dissolved
- Then turn the heat up to a medium-high heat and switch between a whisk and a spatula and continuously stir. It will take around 4-5 minutes to start thickening, but will thicken very rapidly. The final consistency should be thick but pourable
- Once the custard has thickened, turn the heat back down to low and add in the butter. Mix until the butter has been incorporated
- Transfer the mixture equally to 4 ramekins whilst the mixture is still hot, then allow the custard to cool at room temperature for 1 hour
- After 1 hour, cover each ramekin with a clingfilm or a lid and place into the refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours
- Right before serving pour around 3/4tbsp to 1tbsp of sugar on top of the custard for each ramekin and flatten the sugar with the back of a spoon into a thin layer
- Using a blowtorch, heat up the sugar until caramelised all over. Alternatively place under a grill for the same effect (just make sure the ramekins are heat proof). Allow the crème brûlée to stand for 2-3 minutes to allow the caramelised sugar layer to set
- Garnish with finely sliced nuts and dried rose petals. Serve immediately as the sugar layer will melt into a pool of sugary water if left