This is one hot hack.
Creme Brulee
Credit: Getty / Ezhukov

Sometimes the only real difference between a basic morning dish and a showstopping brunch stunner is a little bit of zhuzhing. Add a splash of pomegranate juice and sparkling water to your OJ and you have a pink brunch spritz. A little brown sugar and red pepper flakes on your everyday bacon and you have fancy candied brunch bacon. 

One of the easiest ways to bring a little something extra to your brunch is to embrace the morning brûlée. After all, why should only desserts get all the live-fire love? Adding a thin crisp coating of caramelized sugar works beautifully on all kinds of breakfast dishes and turns them instantly into brunch stars. The best part? Adding a brûlée topping to some breakfast foods adds a bit of elegant flair in a way that is a healthy indulgence. It can make the slightly boring "good for you" foods feel more luxurious and celebratory.

How to brûlée foods

First off, the easiest way to brûlée is by using a small blowtorch. You can get one specifically designed for pastry work at any kitchen supply store, but frankly, I get mine cheaper at the hardware store. Be sure to use it at a low flame and in a safe place: On top of your stovetop or cooktop is usually a great place to brûlée without putting anything in danger. When you brûlée you want to keep the flame moving over the sugar in a constant and even motion; if you stop over one spot you are likely to burn.

If you do not have a blow torch, you can brûlée under your broiler; just keep an eye on your dishes and rotate every minute or two for even melting.

Be sure when you are brûléeing that your food is in or on a heat-proof vessel. Ramekins, oven-safe plates or bowls and baking pans are always the safest way to get that crackly crust without breaking dishes or starting a fire.

Best sugars for brûléeing foods

Choosing the sugar to use for your brûléeing can be half the fun! Granulated sugar is standard, but you can brûlée brown sugar, coarse sugar, maple sugar, even honey! Pastry chefs know that caramel melts and brûlées faster than raw sugar, so they make an amber caramel by melting sugar in a pan and pouring it onto a silicone mat-lined sheet pan and let it get hard. Then they break it up and blitz in a food processor to a fine powder and use that for their brûléeing. It is a do-ahead step that can cut your time in half: The pre-caramelized sugar will melt evenly and super-fast for a great crisp topping. The key is to use a small amount of sugar—an even coating, but not a thick one. If you use too much sugar, the top will melt, but the layer nearest the food will stay granular and not deliciously crunchy.

Now you just get to decide what to brûlée! Here are some of my favorite things to brûlée and how to do it.

Brûléed Fruit

From halved grapefruits for a new take on a retro brunch dish, to berries, to stone fruits like peaches or plums, fruit is a perfect vehicle for a brûléed crust.

How to do it: Sprinkle your sugar or spread your honey on the fruit and brûlée lightly. Fruits do best with more of an amber brûlée, so don't overdo it; you just want the sugar to melt and coat with a light golden hue.

Brûléed Yogurt

If you love a crème brûlée for dessert, you'll love a yogurt brûlée for brunch.

How to do it: Transfer your yogurt to a ramekin or heat-proof bowl and give it a caramelized topping! 

Brûléed Hot Grain Cereals

Whether you are an oatmeal fiend, love your cream of wheat, or prefer a congee, those morning porridges sometimes don't feel fancy enough to serve for brunch. Until you brûlée them! 

How to do it: Put portions in shallow bowls and top with brown sugar or maple sugar and brûlée away for healthy whole grains with some zip.

Brûléed French Toast and Pancakes

Instead of basic maple syrup drizzled on top, try using maple sugar and brûléeing for French toast and pancakes that are truly next level.

How to do it: French toast and pancakes are easiest to brûlée while cooking (and don't require a blowtorch!). In a nonstick skillet, flip your cakes or toast once and while the bottom is browning, sprinkle the already browned tops with a light scattering of maple or granulated sugar. When the bottoms are browned, give them one more flip for just 15-30 seconds to melt that sugar then quickly flip back sugared side up to let it harden. If you want to do for a crowd, make your toast or cakes and then arrange in a single layer on a sheet pan, sprinkle, and pop under your broiler for 30 seconds to a minute to get that crust.