Mandarin Crème Brûlée Recipe


Just before Diane left for Club Med Bahamas, all of you twitter followers may have seen her tweet purring about me making her a mandarin creme brulee.  Yes, I admit, I am a closet pastry fiend.  I loooovve desserts.  It started with a love of eating them (I have not a sweet tooth, but a sweet jaw), then progressed (many eons ago) into a love of making them.  Diane is our household cakemaker girl so those I leave for her pleasure,  but the rest of the desserts are mine.  Few culinary accomplishments make me happier than when I nail a dessert.

In the garden, here at the WORC household, spring is in full stride.  The strawberries are turning from white to red, the wisteria is in bloom, and the various stone fruits have been sending out their flowers, begging for the little pollinators to come visit.  But above all, the citrus is going f@#$ing crazy.  There is new growth everywhere, flowers are popping up aplenty (we saw our first yuzu flower yesterday!!!) and the fruit is plumping up and filling with delicious, succulent sugars.  At this time of year there is one citrus which has ripened ahead of all the rest.  Our beautiful fremont tangerine.


Only two years ago, our tangerine was a little “charlie brown” citrus trees. Then at the beginning of last year, the roots hit a sweet spot and it EXPLODED!  Now the tangerine is our pride and joy, and to make anything with it’s fruit is pure pleasure (thankfully it puts out more than we can eat straight up.)

You may be asking yourself, “What’s the difference between a mandarin and a tangerine?” We certainly did, and here is a brief synopsis of what we found.  Nothing.  They are one and the same.  Mandarin in the general term for this type of citrus.  Mandarins most likely originated in China.  As they made their way around the world, they took on different names and they developed subtle variations.  Those going through Tangier-Morocco took on the name tangerine.  In Europe, the clementine became it’s own variation.  Asian varieties more or less kept mandarin. And over the centuries, more and more subtle variations ensued.  Today, the plant varieties found in nurseries will offer many of the variations, demonstrating how global our world has become. Although in marketing many times the names will be misused or used interchangeably.


our tangerine/mandarin tree

So what is the proper naming?  Mandarin is the most general term to refer to them all.  The rest is variation details.  Just like a cognac is a type of brandy, a tangerine or a clementine  are types of mandarins.  But that isn’t to say there aren’t excellent specific types of mandarins.  Those varieties that developed in Asia will still often carry the mandrin moniker in the common name. Make sense?  If not, just ask Tangerine Man, who says that they are “two words for the same thing, technically Citrus reticulata Blanco.”



This recipe adapted from Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef book creme brulee recipe.  Through Mr. Friberg’s book we’ve learned (among a million other things) of a beautiful little twist that will make your creme brulee a notch better than most others out there…  Brown sugar for the topping.  “But brown sugar is too moist!” you protest.  Not with Bo’s savvy technique.  Dry out the sugar in the oven, the presto, perfect creme brulee topping.  In addition, this creme brulee recipe, with our little additions, is the best we’ve  ever had. Smooth and silky with the gentle citrus notes to brighten up the custard.  Our summertime variation of creme brulee is a lime creme brulee which has an incredibly brilliant flavor.  However for winter and spring, our mandarins are king and so to keep with the seasons, give us a little variation, and to find one more way to enjoy our garden’s bounty, we have created this, our Mandarin Creme Brulee.


Mandarin Creme Brûlée Recipe

Total Time: 4 hours

This recipe adapted from Bo Friberg's The Professional Pastry Chef book creme brulee recipe.  Through Mr. Friberg's book we've learned (among a million other things) of a beautiful little twist that will make your creme brulee a notch better than most others out there...  Brown sugar for the topping.


Creme Brûlée Ingredients

  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 oz (112g) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) fresh mandarin(tangerine) juice
  • 2 1/2 cups (600ml) heavy cream
  • zest from 6 full-sized mandarins (tangerines)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (3g) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) vanilla extract


  • 3 oz (85g) light brown sugar


  1. Mix (do not whip) the egg yolks, eggs, mandarin juice, and 112g of brown sugar until everything is nicely combined.  Put cream into a saucepan, add mandarin zest, then over medium heat, warm cream to scalding point (stirring occasionally).
  2. Gradually pour the egg mixture into cream, stirring constantly.  Add salt and vanilla. Strain custard (it will still be liquidy) into a container that is easy to pour out of, using a fine mesh strainer.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Put ceramic ramekins (ideally should be between 3 1/2"-4 1/2" in diameter) into a roasting pan or other suitable dish (has to be taller than ramekins.)  Add hot water until it reaches about 3/4 the way up the ramekins.  Divide the custard between your ramekins filling about 3/4" deep.
  4. Bake custards for @ 25 minutes, or until they are set. Do not overcook or it will mess up the texture. Remove custards from the water bath and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.  Then refrigerate them until they are thoroughly chilled.  The custards will keep for 4-5 days, just keep them well covered to keep other fridge smells from permeating them.
  5. The second set of brown sugar is for the topping (pay attention here folks, this is huge!) Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a sheet pan with baking paper, spread out brown sugar into an even, thin layer.  Put in oven for a until it starts to dry out (@3-5 min.).  Remove from oven, allow to cool, then roll with a rolling pin to break up into granules again.  Reserve until you are ready to serve the creme brulees.
  6. Serving time!  Sprinkle an even layer of the dried brown sugar on top of the custards.  Torch it with quick swirling motions.
Recipe Source:

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Recipe Note for Salt: All recipes containing salt are based on kosher or sea salt amounts, not table salt. If using table salt, reduce the amount used to taste.

Don’t forget Pi Day coming up… 3.14.09 of course! That’s only a few days away.  We plan on making a pie featuring another treat in the garden.  Any guesses as to what that may be?  Check our Victory Garden page if you forget what we have growing.

P.S.  Did everyone see the latest “No Reservations” where Bourdain went to Vietnam again? That’s the Vietnam Diane & I love.  Even though they didn’t say specifically, one of the beach shots is where a large part of Diane’s family lives.  Watching it made us miss Vietnam even more than usual, and inspired us to finally create some videos from our travels in Vietnam.  Stay tuned for an upcoming Vietnam video series from us, the WORC.


{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }
  1. Sophie

    Wow, this dessert screams: Fabulous & delicious!!! MMMMMM…. I love it!! Thanks so much!!

  2. White on Rice Couple

    Lori Lynn – Yeah, we haven’t ever used the fruit on the Keiffer lime, but the leaves are awesome. Ours got hit bad by leaf miner last year, to we have been protecting all the citrus this year. Congrats on the yuzu blooming. The nursery where we bought ours said it is hard to get them to start blooming, but once they do you are always good. Ours has 8 blossoms! We’re so excited. Honey mandarins will be a bit different than the fremonts, but they are still tasty. Happy growing!

    Samantha – For the TUM!

    Thanks for stopping by and visiting, everyone! Todd.

  3. Samantha Harrigan

    Wow…all I have to say is YUM.

  4. Lori Lynn

    I love hearing about your citrus trees. I planted my first ones last October. The Mexican lime has been producing constantly (made and posted a lime tart aka key lime pie on March 1). I also planted a Keiffer Lime for Thai cooking, my oh my that fruit is so sour, made my teeth furry, but I have a constant supply of lime leaves. Then the yuzu and citrus salad trees are just blooming now, can’t wait for my fruit! Oh, one of the arms of the citrus salad is a honey mandarin, wonder if that is any different, I have to go look it up, thanks for the lesson.

  5. White on Rice Couple

    Passionate Eater – Double thank you very much. We’re honored by your compliments and the award. Love the top 10 photos on your post, too.

    Desiree – Go for it! Creme brulees are fairly easy once you learn a few tricks. And the rewards are mighty tasty!

    heartkorean – Time to organize the kitchen? Always know where your torch is! 😉

    Nhu – Thank you! If you google it, there should be somewhere that someone has posted it. It was one of our favorite episodes. Not just because of Vietnam, but because it was so personal for Bourdain. You know they will have to show it again and again. Keep those eyes peeled!

    Jude – Those are candied rinds. From the tangerines, although you could use maybe lime or something else to contrast. We thought it topped it well. Glad you liked it too.

    Thanks again everyone for stopping by and saying “Hi.” Todd.

  6. Jude

    Is that a candied rind? Looks like the perfect topping for this dessert.

  7. Nhu

    great pix, mandarin/tangerine tree and drool-worthy-looking cre`me brule’e Todd! I missed the Bordain episode grrr (too bad the Travel Travel doesn’t let you watch previous episodes). Heard it was really good from the No Reservations FB fan site. He visited the Gastronomy Blog’s (Cathy and Vernon) lunch lady. I miss Vietnam a great deal too 🙁 Can’t wait for the VN video series!

  8. heartkorean

    wondering where my mini blow-torch went now!

  9. desiree@lookiloos

    I love creme brulee, but haven’t been brave enough to try to make it. Think I might give it a go! Thanks

  10. Passionate Eater

    Quite an innovative creme brulee! I love the fruit twists in creme brulees (like passionfruit and other potent fruits), so this looks especially delicious. Also, I just gave you an award, so please pick it up!

  11. White on Rice Couple

    Matt – Sure there is lots we can’t do. We just keep that a secret!

    Pat – Creme brulee in general is in my top five fav desserts.

    Siri – Thanks. Who knows what life will bring. We still dream of having a cherry tree (beyond just the ornamental kind) but at least we are lucky to have the room to grow our citrus here.

    Layla – Personally, we don’t like our desserts sweeter than a ripe piece of fruit. Citrus for the creme brulee does a nice job in balancing it. We’ll give the garden a hug for you.

    Dana Zia – How cool, a trip to wowwie Maui. I saw a license plate frame that cracked me up today, “When I left Hawaii, I Kauai ed.” Is Lilikoi’s flavor much different from the regular purple passion fruit (we’re growing that this year too!) That would taste incredible. I go nuts when our Viet fruit vendors bring them in. Great idea. Going to check out your recipe now.

    Thanks again, everyone for stopping by and saying “Hi.” Todd.

  12. Dana Zia

    Hey Guys! Had to pop over to check out your latest adventures in eating. Drooooooooooooll, is all I can say. We just got back from a trip to Maui and had quite the gastronomic vacation. We experienced a lilikoi Creme brulee in almond brittle cups that seriously, was to die for. I modified it a bit and posted it on my blog. I think I would like to try this one as well, with lilikoi puree instead of the mandarin juice. Could be interesting………
    Thanks for the great post.
    Dana Zia

  13. Layla

    I love the idea of using mandarin in a creme brulee, sometimes I find creme brulee too sweet and the citrus of the mandarin must balance it perfectly. I am also very envious of your garden!

  14. siri

    Gorgeous photos!

    It’s my dream to own a citrus tree- as a girl from Minnesota who now lives in Norway, I don’t think that will ever become a reality. It’s nice to live vicariously through your photos!

    Thanks for the recipe, it looks divine.


  15. Pat

    I love creme brulee in any of its incarnations! And I’m jealous of the tangerine tree in your yard.

  16. matt wright

    Dang, there is nothing you guys cannot do! Fantastic looking Brulee. Love the shots of the mandarin’s too.

  17. White on Rice Couple

    Thanks for the comments everyone!
    peabody – You little pyro girl! Love your style!

    Lisa – Truly a girl after my own heart. Desserts first! You never know when you are going to kick the bucket!

    Julia – I’ve thought about it, but the torch would have to live in garage, no cabinet space high enough in the kitchen w/o serious rearranging. How cool you studied under Friberg! Our Prof Pastry Chef book is in absolute tatters I’ve used it so much. He’s our pastry idol!

    Phoo-D – Time to light it up! We love our citrus, too. They makes us happy to be home.

    Abigail – Yeah, probably not a good tool for your spot. One wayward torch and the whole block could be up in flames. Thanks for the compliments. Here’s a napkin.

    Amy – Just pick up ceramic ramekins (don’t have to be specific creme brulee size) when you find ’em cheap. We love Marshals down here for good close-out kitchen stuff.

    Happy Cook – The flames are fun, aren’t they. Livens up the kitchen when you light up!

    Evil Chef Mom – D. found those crates recently. Aren’t they cool?!

    Jesse – We feel so lucky to have all of our trees! They are everything you said and more!

    toontz – That’s part of why we grow whatever we can. All the tasty stuff is damn expensive! At least you had sunshine to wake up to. I loved those cold, clear mornings growing up.

    Kate – That’s exactly how we started our “garden.” We had an apartment patio & had a meyer lemon and a mexican lime tree. A yuzu would be dangerous in tight quarters, them puppies got nasty thorns. Thanks on the compliments. We are looking for a touch of a “burnt” flavor for our creme brulee toppings. Just a hair more than a regular caramel taste. After all “creme brulee” means burnt cream. When torching we tend to quickly work areas over in steps. Swirl a spot just to bubble a little, move to the next, then the next, then returning back to the first. Drying the brown sugar definitely helps the caramelization process from burning to quick. Plus the brown sugar topping isn’t as “glassy” of a texture. There is a little more give while still giving that nice snap to the top. Hope that makes sense in describing what we look for in our creme brulees.

    Simone – Welcome! Thank you so much. Glad you stopped by.

    Heather – Aren’t mandarins tasty. Always one of my favorite fruits. Especially now that we are growing them and we can taste the fully tree ripened.

    The Daily Colander – Very close. The pie is related, but the limes aren’t primetime yet.

    Marie – We always used to have fruit envy too, until we started growing our own. Now we are just the lucky ones who are very grateful for what we have.

    Thanks again everyone for stopping by and saying “Hi.” -Todd.

  18. Marie

    I’ve been way into oranges lately and have always loved clementines- ahem, mandarins! 😛 I am very envious of your tree! This creme brulee sounds so lovely (I’m not someone who needs dessert or even craves it much, but I find it difficult to pass up on a creme brulee opp).

  19. The Daily Colander

    I think I’m speechless. I cannot believe your tangerines. They are so gorgeous. My guess for your next pie treat is that you’re going to do something with your limes…..right?

  20. Heather

    wow! that sounds so good!! i love mandarin oranges! glad that your garden is growing so well 🙂

  21. Simone (junglefrog)

    I just found your blog through Jaden’s and just love it. The photos are gorgeous and the creme brulee recipe is one I just have to make! I love creme brulee and this version looks delicious! I will definitely be back here more often!

  22. toontz

    Oooh, so beautious! I am so jealous of your garden (and bounty). Here in Wisconsin, I woke up to sunshine and 15 degrees. My kids love clementines, and I choke every time I see the price on those boxes. They would think they were in heaven if they could step outside and pick one off a tree. Great job on the creme brulee.

  23. Kate

    First of all, I’m completely envious of your garden. We have a porch. Granted, we have a meyer lemon and a lime tree on said porch, and both are, as you mentioned, going gangbusters, but no room for yuzu.

    Second, the creme brulee looks terrific. My problem with using brown sugar in creme brulee has been less about the moistness and more about the caramelization — the brown sugar always tastes too burnt by the time it reaches the correct texture. Is this really a moistness issue by another name? Or is the burnt flavor sometimes desirable? (I imagine it’s a heartier flavor than the caramelized superfine sugar that I usually use.)

  24. Jesse

    Arrrrr, I want some! No, I want lots and LOTS of creme brulee! Your tree looks so majestic… no, umm, powerful? No… err, just gosh darned DELICIOUS!

  25. evil chef mom

    that is one good looking dessert and the photo with the crate of mandrins and the one that is peeled… i love it.

  26. Amy

    I gotta find my creme brulee set…

  27. Happy Cook

    I just bought a blow torch 2 weeks ago and i am in love with it.
    Brulee looks so yumm,

  28. Abigail

    Man, I’d love to have one of those torchy thingies but my kitchen is so tiny over here in Japan that it would probably NOT be a smart thing (fire hazard-wise, I mean). In the meantime, I’m gonna drool over this here little dessert you guys’ve conjured. Oh my word. Wiping the slobber off my keyboard…

  29. Phoo-D

    I’ve been meaning to break our kitchen torch out of the box for a few years now. This looks to be the right recipe to do it! I love the idea of using brown sugar. Your citrus trees are so beautiful!

  30. Julia

    Todd — you need to get yourself one of the “industrial size” blow torches. You know the kind you get at the hardware store. Makes creme brulee so fast, and much more fun!

    I had the good fortune of studying with Bo Friberg when I was in culinary school! It’s funny to look back on our recipes and see how dated they are. Styles of dessert definitely go in and out of fashion. Creme brulee, however, it always in fashion.

  31. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary

    LOL Sweet jaw….I guess that means I would have to say I have a sweet head, lol. I love Brulees and now I want to eat one…immediately if not sooner!

  32. peabody

    Looks so good. And I always love a recipe that you can set on fire!

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