Brûlée Your Store-Bought Pie For An Easy Homemade Look

During the holiday season, pie rightfully earns its place on the dessert spread. With its delightful textural contrast of silky filling and crispy crust — plus its rustic appearance — pie offers fall flavors in the best package possible. But what if you could add another layer of texture to this formula?

Enter the crème brûlée topping. Stunning in both looks and flavor, this crackling top traditionally acts as a caramelized sugary seal for creamy baked custards — but it could also serve as a special, homemade topping for store-bought pies. Imagine how perfect this toasted topper would be on sweet potato, pumpkin, or maple pie varieties. It would even complement apple butter-swirled or plain custard pies. Plus, this brûlée coat requires little more than a sprinkle of granulated sugar and a brief encounter with a kitchen torch, making it as easy to create as it is delightful to eat.

How to brûlée your pie

To give your store-bought pie a brûlée topping, follow the basic rules of making a classic crème brûlée. If you decided to chill your pie after buying, you might want to dab off any excess moisture from the surface, as condensation can occasionally settle in puddles on top during refrigeration. You can use any type of sugar for the coating, but for the classic color, opt for traditionally granulated sugar. Apply just a thin, even layer, as you won't need much to create a delicate scorched topping.

For the high-heat element, you can use either your oven broiler or a hand torch to crisp the topping. Both methods work, but the hand torch offers more control and an even appearance. You'll want to hold your torch close enough to the sugar to properly melt and caramelize it, but avoid getting too close to the pie crust edges, as this will burn them. Keep your torch moving constantly; if you linger on one spot, the sugar might turn black and burn quickly. You can wipe off any excess sugar near the edges with a wet pastry brush if desired.

Make sure to brûlée your pie just before serving. The sugared topping will not hold up well in the fridge, as moisture will dissolve its crisp structure. 

More treats you can brûlée

Of course, there's much more than pie that can benefit from a crunchy, caramelized topping. One obvious candidate is sweet, decadent banana bread. Consider topping off your quick bread with a pair of sliced, brûléed bananas for a twist reminiscent of the flambé charms of a slow cooker bananas Foster. Another option is the classic Mexican chocoflan cake. Half creamy flan, half gooey chocolate cake, the chocoflan's custard top would welcome a halo of caramelized sugar. Cheesecake, too, pairs well with the brûlée treatment, as its custardy base embraces some crunchy contrast.

Want to bring the brûlée experience to something more savory? Try adding a caramelized coat to a hot-from-the-oven wheel of brie or camembert. Served with crackers or puff pastry, you'll be surprised at how well the two complement each other. Alternatively, add a brûlée top to your holiday ham roast. Salty, porky ham often pairs with a rich dose of molasses-packed brown sugar or maple syrup, so a brûléed crust is just an enhancement. Once you unlock the potential of the brûlée topping, you'll quickly find new and exciting ways to use it.