Pot de Crème vs Crème Brûlée

Pot de Crème or Crème Brûlée

For any of our custard-loving readers, having to decide between pot de crème or crème brûlée can be a difficult one.

Of course, we don’t advocate any such hardships here at Miss Buttercup because life is too short not to enjoy both!

If you’ve ever had either of these French delights, then you’ll understand exactly what we are talking about.

However, not everyone has and for anyone who’s curious about the difference between them, then this is the article for you.

On the surface, they can appear quite similar and in some ways that’s true, but despite that, there are some subtle differences between them.

Indeed, there a couple that stand out right away.

The main difference between pot de crème and crème brûlée is that pot de crème is made with equal parts of whole milk and cream along with egg yolks whereas crème brûlée is richer and made with heavy cream, egg yolks and topped with a burnt layer of sugar. Even though both are served in ramekins today, pot de crème was historically served in a ceramic dish of the same name. Last, pot de crème may also be served as a savory dish whereas crème brûlée is only a dessert. 

If you’re surprised by the above, then you’re not alone since most believe these dishes are identical.

The exciting thing is that there’s even more to uncover and uncover all of it we will on this delicious journey.

Differences in Origin

Pot de crème is classified as a custard which covers a vast swath in culinary history.

Because of this, the specific origins of pot de crème are not known. The creation is thought to be a descendant of early forms of custard, called “crustade”, which appeared in Europe during the Middle Ages. 

Crustade isn’t a true custard as we think of it today, rather it described a tart which also had a crust. As time passed, chefs began making tarts without crust. Custard was the term which evolved to describe dishes like these and it’s believed that pot de crème descended from these early creations.

Although pot de crème’s origins appear unclear, the same cannot be said for crème brûlée.

In fact, its heritage is hotly contested by England, France and Spain – each of which have seemingly valid claims to the creation of this delicious dessert.

An early version, referred to as burnt cream, appeared in England during the 17th century. Nearly a century later, Spain’s version, Cream Catalana, made its appearance. Last, and certainly not least, the version we’re all so familiar with, France’s crème brûlée, first arose near the end of the 19th century.

Dessert Classification Origins Historical Appearance
Pot de crème Custard Unknown Descendant of early forms of custard called “crustade” in Europe during the Middle Ages
Crème brûlée Contested by England, France and Spain Burnt cream in England during the 17th century; Cream Catalana in Spain; Crème brûlée in France near the end of the 19th century

Differences in Ingredients

As previously mentioned, the ingredients for both pot de crème and crème brûlée are nearly identical – the exception being the types and ratios of dairy used in each. Both use egg yolks and sugar. Of course, crème brûlée adds additional sugar in the form of a caramelized crust whereas pot de crème does not.

For dairy, in pot de crème, an equal mix of whole milk and cream is combined with egg yolks whereas with crème brûlée, whole milk is not used. Instead, heavy cream is used along with egg yolks.

Ingredient Pot de Crème Crème Brûlée
Egg Yolks Yes Yes
Sugar Yes Yes (Plus additional sugar for caramelized crust)
Dairy Equal mix of whole milk and cream Heavy cream (no whole milk)

Differences in Preparation and Service

Most crème brûlée recipes use one of two methods for preparation – the “hot” and “cold” methods, respectively.

The hot method involves the use of a double boiler. The egg yolks are whisked in it prior to adding the rest of the ingredients. In the cold method, the goal is to whisk the eggs and sugar until a ribbonlike consistency is achieved. Once it is, the remaining ingredients are added.

Whether the prep work is accomplished using either the hot or cold method, the mixture is transferred to the ramekins and placed in a bain marie (water bath) and cooked. They are removed and then chilled, allowing the mix to set prior to the addition of the sugar layer which is torched just prior to service.

Once again, no caramelized sugar is used in pot de crème.

Preparing pot de crème is a little easier than crème brûlée. In essence, all the ingredients are combined in a saucepan over medium heat. The goal is to stir the mix until it thickens which usually takes 5 – 10 minutes.

At this stage, the warmed mix is this transferred to individual ramekins and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve them.

Method Crème Brûlée Pot de Crème
Preparation Hot or Cold Method Stirring over Medium Heat
Tools Double Boiler, Whisk, Ramekins, Bain Marie Saucepan, Ramekins
Cooking Water Bath Refrigeration
Topping Caramelized Sugar None

Differences in Taste and Texture

Because it uses less cream and more milk, pot de crème tends to have a consistency closer to thick pudding. This is in contrast to the firmness of crème brûlée which can be “carved away”, leaving a distinctive point where it’s been pierced.

In terms of flavor, you can also expect pot de crème to have a creamy, puddinglike mouthfeel whereas crème brûlée is firm, yet smooth with a finish that melts in the mouth.

Pot de crème may also be flavored. A good example of this is chocolate pot de crème which is a wildly popular variation. On the other hand, crème brûlée features its traditional notes of vanilla and hints of nuttiness that make it so beloved.

And of course, we can’t leave out the most distinctive taste differential between pot de crème and crème brûlée – the crispy, sugary, burnt goodness that is the crust of crème brûlée.

In fact, for many this is the dessert’s main appeal and perhaps the most stark difference between these two French classics.

Attribute Pot de Crème Crème Brûlée
Consistency Thick pudding Firm
Flavor Creamy, puddinglike Firm, yet smooth with a vanilla finish
Variations Chocolate Vanilla with hints of nuttiness
Crust None Crispy, sugary, burnt
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