During my Mexican-food-obsessed youth, my favorite dessert was flan, the Latin American version of crème caramel: smooth, eggy custard enveloped in browned sugar syrup. That was until I tried crème brûlée, which is nearly identical to crème caramel, with one crucial difference: Instead of being melted into syrup, the sugar is sprinkled on top of the custard and burnt to a crisp. (The name literally means “burned cream,” which elides some nuance but gets the point across.)
Both desserts combine a bland but very rich custard with some cloying variation on pure sugar. Custard and sugar, by themselves, are boring; together, they make a well-balanced dessert. (In terms of flavor, not nutrition, obviously.) But unlike crème caramel, crème brûlée provides an irresistible textural contrast between silky custard and crunchy sugar.