Meet the Crème Brûlée Donut — a hybrid masterpiece that marries the cozy comfort of a classic American treat with the elegance of a French dessert. This, my friends, is a vanilla cream donut on another level and it's ridiculously tasty. Donuts + creme brulee = WINNING.
We start with the softest, airiest brioche dough – think pillows of heaven that melt in your mouth. Each fluffy brioche donut is then pumped full of a rich vanilla pastry cream that mimics the baked consistency and subtly sweet flavor of baked creme anglaise.
But the real showstopper here is the bruléed sugar topping. The moment your fork (or teeth!) shatters through that caramelized sugar crust to reveal the soft, creamy heart underneath? I’d be shocked if you don’t fall head over heels in love.
⭐ Why You’ll Love This Creme Brulee Donut Recipe
Prepare to be dazzled by these crème brûlée doughnuts – a delightful fusion of classic breakfast comfort and upscale elegance, all in one irresistible package! 🍩✨ Here’s why they're sure to become one of your favorite donut recipes:
- Unbeatable Flavor Combination: The classic taste of vanilla cream donuts gets a luxurious upgrade. The rich, creamy pastry cream filling paired with the slightly caramelized, crackly brûlée topping is a match made in heaven. Every bite is a textural extravaganza featuring the contrast of soft, lush dough, the cool creamy filling, and the crisp, sweet shell.
- A Feast for the Eyes: Not only do they taste divine, but these donuts are also a visual treat. The glossy, caramelized top of each donut is so enticing, it's almost a shame to break into it. Almost. They bring the sophistication of a French patisserie right into your kitchen — perfect for impressing guests or adding a touch of elegance to your weekend brunch.
- Surprisingly Simple to Make: Despite their fancy appearance, this creme brulee doughnut recipe is surprisingly straightforward. With clear, step-by-step instructions, you'll find the process of making them as enjoyable as eating them! Hint: you don’t need a kitchen torch. 🔥
Despite boasting several layers of flavors and textures, this creme brulee doughnuts recipe is made with simple, easy-to-find ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Brioche Dough - Made with primarily pantry ingredients (plus butter and eggs), this is easily one of the most versatile yeasted doughs you can learn to make! For this particular recipe, I also add the zest of a lemon for a touch of brightness.
- Neutral Oil - For frying the donuts. I typically reach for palm or canola oil, but any high smoke-point neutral-flavored oil will do!
- Pastry Cream - Also known as Crème Pâtissière, this French custard is ideal for making eclairs, cream puffs, and, of course, these cream-filled donuts. Milk, butter, eggs, and a few pantry staples are all you need.
- Granulated Sugar - While this neutral sweetener shows up in both the brioche dough and the pastry cream, it truly shines in the crackly caramel coating. Unlike making a traditional creme brulee, though, you don’t need to use the broiler or a torch. Easy peasy!
See the recipe card below for a full list of ingredients and measurements.
⏲️ Substitutions & Variations
Need to tweak the recipe to suit your needs and preferences? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Dairy-Free Option: Swap out the milk in both the brioche dough and pastry cream for a high-protein plant-based alternative like soy milk. You can also use a dairy-free butter substitute in the dough to keep everything completely lactose-free.
- Flavor Twists: Experiment with different flavors in the pastry cream. Add a touch of lemon or orange zest for tang, a dash of cinnamon for warmth, or even a swirl of puréed fruit for a fruity twist.
- Flavored topping: For an added twist, consider using flavored sugar to make your caramel. Vanilla bean, citrus zest, or even a hint of spice like cinnamon can add an extra dimension to your brûlée topping.
- Mini Donut Delights: If you prefer bite-sized treats, adapt this recipe to make filled donut holes. They’re perfect for parties (you can even stack them like a Christmas tree to make a variation on croquembouche) or as a fun snack.
- Nutty Additions: For an extra crunch, sprinkle finely chopped toasted nuts over the brûléed topping before it sets. Almonds, hazelnuts, or pecans are all delightful options.
This recipe has not been tested with other substitutions or variations. If you replace or add any ingredients, please let us know how it turned out in the comments below!
📖 How To Make Creme Brulee Donuts: Step-by-Step Instructions
Step 1 - Make Pastry Cream: In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, corn starch, and sugar. Gradually add hot milk while stirring.
Step 2 - Cool & Prep: Cook over low heat until the mixture thickens into a custard. Stir in vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. Cool overnight, and place in a pastry bag.
Step 3 - Make your Brioche: Mix and knead together your brioche dough until you've passed the window pane test. Then proof, and place in the fridge overnight.
Step 4 - Shape & second rise: After the dough has rested overnight, it’s time to start shaping! Divide your dough using a sharp knife or a bench scraper into even pieces.
Step 5 - Fry Doughnuts: Fry doughnuts for 2-3 minutes on each side using a slotted spoon.
Step 6 - Make Caramel Glaze: In a small saucepan, heat cup sugar on medium heat until it reaches a light honey color.
Step 7 - Glaze Doughnuts: Gently dip the top of each doughnut into the caramel glaze, giving a gentle swirl for an even coating.
Step 8 - Fill and Enjoy: Let the glazed doughnuts set for a short while before filling and serving these fluffy, creamy, and crunchy caramel delights.
👩🏻🍳 Expert baking tips
Here are some essential tips to help you along the way to donut greatness:
- Alternative to Pastry Bags: If you don't have a pastry bag for the cream filling, no worries! A zip-top bag can work just as well. Fill it with your pastry cream, seal it, and snip off a corner to create a makeshift piping bag. For a more eco-friendly option, consider using a folded parchment cone. It's a bit trickier to master, but it's an excellent skill to add to your baking arsenal.
- Monitor the Caramel Topping: The brûlée topping can go from perfect to burnt in a flash. Keep a close eye on it, removing it from the heat when it's golden brown.
- Give the Dough Ample Rising Time: Patience is key when it comes to letting an enriched dough like brioche rise properly. Rushing this step can result in dense donuts. Remember: watch the dough, not the clock, and give it enough time to double in size. This could take a few hours depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.
- Use a Thermometer for Oil Temperature: Frying donuts requires a consistent oil temperature, around 340°F (171°C). Too hot and the outsides will scorch while the interiors remain raw and doughy; too cool and the donuts will become oil-logged and greasy. Using a candy or deep-fry thermometer will help you maintain this temperature, ensuring your donuts are cooked perfectly — golden and crispy on the outside, soft and airy on the inside.
What is the top of creme brulee made of?
For the traditional French custard dessert, the topping is made with one ingredient: granulated sugar that has been torched into a caramel. To make these creme brulee donuts, however, we go a different route, opting to make a caramelized simple syrup to dip the fried and filled donuts in.
Where can I buy creme brulee donuts?
Now that you have the recipe, you can make them at home whenever the craving strikes!
How should I store them?
Ideally, they should be enjoyed fresh on the day they are made, especially to preserve the crispness of the brûlée topping. However, if you have leftovers, you can pop them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a day or two.
Alternatively, you can work ahead — place the unfilled, unbrûléed donuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. The pastry cream should be stored separately in the refrigerator and used to fill the donuts just before dipping in the brulee syrup and serving.
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Crème Brûlée Donuts
- Slotted Spoon
- 4 cups (976 g) Whole Milk
- 1 Vanilla Bean
- 5 (90 g) Egg Yolks
- ⅔ cup (133 g) Granulated Sugar
- ½ cup (64 g) Cornstarch
- Pinch Kosher Salt
- 3 Tablespoons (42 g) Unsalted Butter
- ¾ Cup (175 g) Warm Water
- ¼ Cup (50 g) Granulated Sugar
- 1 teaspoon Active dry yeast
- 3 ¾ Cup (500 g) All-Purpose flour
- 3 Large Eggs
- 1 ¼ teaspoon Salt
- ⅓ Cup + 1 Tbsp (100 g) Unsalted Butter, room temperature
- 2 liters Canola oil, for frying
- 1 cup (200 g) Granulated Sugar, for creme brulee topping
- ¼ cup Water, for creme brulee topping
- In a heavy saucepan, add your scraped vanilla bean and milk together and bring to a simmer.4 cups Whole Milk, 1 Vanilla Bean
- Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and pinch of salt together in a bowl. Whisk until the mixture lightens in color and becomes a pale yellow. Temper the egg mixture by slowly whisking in the hot milk to the egg mixture together until homogenous.5 Egg Yolks, ⅔ cup Granulated Sugar, ½ cup Cornstarch, Pinch Kosher Salt
- Return the mixture to the saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly over medium heat. When the pastry cream comes to a boil, continue to whisk constantly and boil for up to 2 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and strain into a clean bowl. Stir in the butter and mix until the butter is melted and mixed into the cream. Cover with plastic film placed directly in contact with the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming and place in the fridge to cool.3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
- Mix together the warm water, sugar and yeast together in your stand mixer’s mixing bowl. Let this mixture rest undisturbed for 5-10 minutes until you start to see bubbles start to form on the surface.¾ Cup Warm Water, ¼ Cup Granulated Sugar, 1 teaspoon Active dry yeast
- Add your flour and eggs to the active yeast mixture using the paddle attachment. After one minute of mixing on medium speed, the ingredients should be well combined. At this point, switch to using the dough hook attachment and knead for 6-8 minutes before adding salt and butter one tablespoon at a time. Continue kneading with the dough hook for another 5-8 minutes until the dough looks smooth and glossy and you notice that the dough is not sticking to the sides of the bowl. This means that your dough has been well developed and we can stop mixing.3 ¾ Cup All-Purpose flour, 3 Large Eggs, ⅓ Cup + 1 tablespoon Unsalted Butter, 1 ¼ teaspoon Salt
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl and allow to proof for 1.5 to 2 hours covered in plastic wrap. You’re looking for the dough to have about doubled in size before moving on to the next step. If your kitchen tends to run quite cold, try to find a warm spot to leave the dough for this resting period. Then, remove the plastic wrap, and degas the dough by punching it down before recovering and placing it in the fridge overnight. This overnight rest of about 12-14 hours is essential in order to develop flavor as the dough continues to ferment slowly within low temperatures.
- After the dough has rested overnight – it’s time to start shaping! Divide your dough using a sharp knife or a bench scraper into 65 gram even pieces. Gently degas each piece by pressing on top of the ball with the heel of your hand before forming into a tight boule. Place each piece of dough onto a parchment lined baking tray where the parchment has been lightly sprayed with baking spray and cover with plastic wrap that has also been sprayed ( so the plastic wrap doesn't stick to the dough). Let the dough sit undisturbed in a warm spot to proof until they have doubled in size for about 1.5-2 hours.
- Approximately twenty minutes before the doughnuts have finished their final proof, it’s time to start heating your frying oil! Grab a large Dutch oven or your preferred container for frying. Add the oil, ensuring that you have at least 3 inches of height from the bottom of the Dutch oven to the top of the oil. Turning the stove on medium-high, heat the oil to 340° F.2 liters Canola oil
- I always do a “test” doughnut before moving on to the remaining doughnuts. Fry the test doughnut for 2-3 minutes on each side before removing it from the oil with a slotted spoon and placing it on a cooling rack lined with paper towels. Continue this process by gently dropping four pieces of proofed dough into the oil at a time, making sure not to crowd the doughnuts too much! Make sure to check the temperature of the oil after each batch, in case you need to reheat the oil back to 345° F.
- To make the creme brulee topping, add the 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water into a small saucepan and heat on medium-high heat until you see the mixture start to bubble. Grab a pair of tongs and set them to the side. Bring the heat down to medium and gently swirl the sugar in the pan every 30 seconds or so until the sugar turns a golden brown color.1 cup Granulated Sugar, ¼ cup Water
- Grip one side of your donuts with tongs (or with your fingers if you feel comfortable, just be extra careful of the hot sugar!) and dip the other flat side of your doughnut into the caramel. Tilt the donuts slightly to drain off caramel excess and set the donut caramel-side-up on your cooling rack. Repeat this process for the rest of your donuts!
- Fill a piping bag with your preferred filling. Pierce the doughnut with the tip of the piping bag and fill the center of the doughnut with the filling. Enjoy!
- DON’T skip the overnight rest. The dough continues to ferment slowly overnight within the low temperatures, which is essential to developing flavor.
- Use a thermometer to consistently check the oil’s temperature. It can rise and lower as you move through the frying process. Keep a close eye on the temperature to ensure it stays at 345ºF for even and consistent doughnuts.
- Be prepared before you start! This recipe moves quickly, so have your thermometer, a plate lined with paper towels, and your sugar coating ready before you begin frying.