Crispity, crunchity burnt sugar is an excellent way to make a healthy breakfast bad for you, and a bad-for-you breakfast even worse. But let’s be honest here—if you’ve already clicked through to read this, you don’t care about these things, do you? You know where your priorities are, and that’s making your breakfast sexy AF. Bruleed sugar adds texture, varying levels of complex caramel notes, and gives you a reason to play with fire first thing in the morning. It’s hard to look badass eating half a grapefruit, but a person holding a grapefruit in one hand and a blowtorch in the other has let the world know they won’t be putting up with any of their malarkey today.
There are three routes you can go when you're bruleeing sugar: blowtorch, broiling or searing.
FYI, those adorable little brulee torches you find in home stores are worthless. They’ll never get hot enough, you won’t be able to get even caramelization, you’ll be standing there for ten minutes wondering what you’re doing wrong. This affront to kitchen equipment is wasting your time. If you want to brulee like you mean it, go to any hardware store and pick yourself up a handheld butane torch. Don’t think you’re picking up a unitasker because you’ll find ways to use it: evenly browning pizza cheese, charring sous vide stuff, roasting marshmallows like a boss.
Now to the burning. Evenly scatter a very thin layer of sugar over the top of your intended target, like a ramekin of Greek yogurt (lazy man’s creme brulee!). You don’t want significant accumulation, because the pressure of the torch will blow that sugar everywhere like a sandstorm, and you’ll start getting the bad kind of fire that leads to uneven caramel. Sprinkle evenly, then give it a little shake to make sure it’s distributed well. Hold your blowtorch about six inches off your sugar, then gently move it back and forth, up and down, until an amber crust develops.
Looking to do this to a pastry, like making a homemade creme brulee doughnut? Dip it in powdered sugar glaze, allow to dry completely, then hit it with the torch.
You won’t have as much control over your caramel as you would have with the blowtorch, but maybe your spouse won’t let you buy one because they don’t trust your motives. You’ll want to follow the same principles for sugar distribution as above. Evenness is key, and too much will result in a burnt top layer with raw sugar tucked underneath. This is a great method for grapefruit: Dip the cut side into a saucer of sugar, lift it straight up, and shake it off gently.
Preheat your broiler with an oven rack in the highest position. Put all your to-be-bruleed items single-file on a sheet pan, then slide them directly under the flame. Wait about 30 seconds and check; they might not be done, but you’ll get a good idea how the timing goes. Keep going and checking until the sugar is slightly lighter than the shade you want it, pull and let it cool.
This works best on pancakes, French toast, and other things you make on the griddle. As the first side is cooking, lightly sprinkle sugar onto the raw side so it melds with the batter. When you flip it, that sugar will get nice and crisp, no blowtorch necessary.