This NYC Restaurant Is The Reason Crème Brûlée Became Popular

While crème brûlée seems like an iconic French dessert, it may actually have roots in a different country altogether. According to Saveur, a somewhat similar dessert was known in England as early as the 15th century, and a Spanish version of the dessert, crema catalana, dates back to the Middle Ages. The first known French recipe for crème brûlée was printed in a 1691 cookbook called "Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois," and that dish may have been served in the Palace of Versailles.

Crème brûlée eventually made its way to the New World where it was found on the table in Thomas Jefferson's White House. It had a resurgence in popularity in mid-20th century America, and Julia Child included a crème brûlée recipe in her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (via Internet Archive). Still, at some point this dessert fell out of favor, perhaps because its name was way too hard to type back in pre-computer days. According to Women's Health, though, crème brûlée came roaring back in 1982, all thanks to one NYC eatery.

Crème brûlée wasn't even popular in France until Le Cirque added it to the menu

Le Cirque, a fixture of the New York dining scene since 1974, was a favorite of former mayor Rudy Giuliani and launched the careers of such food world luminaries as Geoffrey Zakarian of "Chopped" and Gail Simmons of "Top Chef." Its biggest contribution to culinary history, however, may have been elevating crème brûlée from a fairly obscure dish into a world-wide sensation. In fact, the restaurant's signature dessert even launched numerous spin-off products, including Haagen-Dazs' much-missed crème brûlée ice cream.

According to Saveur, the Le Cirque version of crème brûlée was inspired by Spanish crema catalana. In fact, it wasn't until French celebrity chef Paul Bocuse tried this dish in NYC that it then caught on in France, a place where it hadn't been popular since the Sun King sat on the throne. Nearly four decades later, Le Cirque's New York location has not only closed, but is now auctioning off its circus-themed décor (via Architectural Digest). Crème brûlée, however, is more popular than ever, with chefs ranging from Ina Garten to random TikTokers adding their own tweaks and touches, and Aldi and Costco making ready-made crème brûlée accessible to the budget shopper.