As a child of the 80s, the crème caramel was the epitome of all desserts for me. As a daughter of an hotelier I spent a lot of the 80s giving into the gentle jiggling charm of this dessert. Somewhere into the 90s the dessert disappeared from its pedestal of fame. Apparently the crème caramel had occupied a huge amount of space on restaurant menus around the world for a large part of the 20th century and probably had to make room for the liquid nitrogen dessert trends that took the 2000s over by storm. Or how about the fusion of any two ingredients possible – cronut or cruffin anyone?
For me the crème caramel will always have a wobbly satisfaction that smooth silky custard-type desserts usually do. Bathing in the luscious syrupy caramel sauce, the dessert becomes a magical experience that no unicorn fabled dessert (or drink) can ever match. It certainly is time for a revival of this culinary classic. Many good things came from the 80s and this certainly is right up there on the list.
the ideal custard for a crème caramel should be delicately flavored – not too rich or sweet
At the heart of the crème caramel is of course, custard. Like all custards it starts with eggs, mixed with milk and heated to the required consistency. But not all custards are made alike – a rich crème anglaise, for example, should be thin enough to pour. The crème caramel is a set-custard baked and usually protected from the dry heat of the oven with a water bath and set firm enough to easily turn it on a plate. The firmness of the custard depends on the proportion of egg whites, because the whites form a matrix of albumen creating a gel, which helps to set the custard. The more egg white included, the firmer the custard. Custards cooked in this way were also called douchets and includes classics like bread and butter pudding, crème brûlée and of course our hero the crème caramel.
The sublime smoky and caramel-ly aroma, with a hint of liquorice just makes this crème caramel better.
For me, the ideal custard for a crème caramel should be delicately flavoured – not too rich or sweet as it will fight with the caramel topping. I prefer a smooth creamy texture and usually go for whole eggs and twice the number of egg yolks – it is wonderfully egg-y but not overwhelmingly so! When it comes to the diary I am all for plain milk. In my opinion cream, although will make the custard softer and richer it is not required here. The milk and the eggs complete the job of making this a robust yet rich dessert. Finally for the caramel, I have come to love the flavor of muscovado sugar – it literally knocks my socks off! I add equal parts of the light brown sugar with a fine granulated sugar. The sublime smoky and caramel-ly aroma, with a hint of liquorice just makes this crème caramel better.
The complexity of the custard comes from the way the caramel is absorbed by the custard over the time they spend together
The complexity of the custard comes from the way the caramel is absorbed by the custard over the time they spend together in the fridge and sitting on the counter top. Crème caramel is at its best eaten at room temperature! Too cold and it will dull the perception of taste, and this is where you want liquid warmth, not the chill of an ice cream.
The crème caramel takes very kindly to being infused with herbs, flowers and spices.
While I adore the traditional version with just a touch of vanilla to the custard, I often like playing with subtle flavorings. The crème caramel takes very kindly to being infused with herbs, flowers and spices. In this version I use mild flavors of chamomile and a pinch of saffron giving it a luxurious flavor. The quiet gentle flavor of chamomile, very much like crisp apples, carries hints of apple and floral sweetness while the subtle yet complex saffron adds a slight smoky aroma with tones of honey. A word of advice for both ingredients – please use in moderation. Both, chamomile and saffron can become overpowering fairly quickly if used abundantly.
It is one of the easiest desserts to make and following my tips and notes below I promise you will be whipping up the smoothest silky custard in no time. Making the caramel is probably the most challenging part of the dessert but with the step by step instructions this favorite is surprisingly easy to make. ENJOY!
For the caramel:
- 60g fine granulated sugar
- 60g light muscovado sugar
For the creme:
- butter for greasing forms
- 500ml whole milk
- 10g dried chamomile flowers
- Pinch of saffron
- 100g fine granulated sugar
- 2 eggs plus 4 yolks
- Grease six ramekins or aluminum forms with butter and set aside. Pour the milk into a small pan, add the chamomile flowers and saffron and allow the milk to come to a simmer. Make sure you do not boil the milk. Turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse while you make the caramel.
- In a deep saucepan put the two sugars for the caramel and add just enough water to barely cover the sugar – start with about 2 tablespoons. Heat slowly, stirring gently with a metal tablespoon until the sugar has dissolved. The base of the pan should no longer feel gritty when you run the spoon over it. As the water evaporates, the syrup will become thicker and the bubbles on the surface will get bigger. Do not stir the syrup during this time.
- When the syrup starts to turn golden at the edges, swirl the pan to ensure even coloring. Do not stir! When the syrup has turned a rich golden caramel color and has a sweet toasty fragrance, remove from heat. Divide the syrup between the molds, working quickly before it sets, and swirling to cover the bases. Set aside.
- Strain the milk. In a heatproof bowl, whisk together the eggs and the eggs yolks. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until combined. Slowly pour the milk into the bowl, stirring all the time, then leave to settle for 15 minutes while the caramel sets. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 150C and boil a kettle.
- If there is any foam on the surface of the custard mixture skim then pour through a sieve into the ramekins and cover each one tightly with foil. Place the ramekins into a roasting pan. Pour hot water into the pan to two-thirds of the way up the ramekins. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 12-15 minutes, or until the custard is just set but still slightly wobbles at the center. Remove from the bain-marie and leave to cool. Refrigerate until completely cold.
- To unmold, run a slim knife around the outside of each mold and invert on to plates. Serve at room temperature
- For a really smooth and creamy finish be as gentle as possible to avoid adding a lot of air in the mixture.
- Keep the heat moderate while cooking the custard to ensure you get a really fine creme caramel.
- I prefer a more liquid syrup to my creme caramel. If you like it thicker add less water and allow it to thicken more.
This rich custard is an elegant and slightly extravagant stunning dessert. The sweet golden caramel offers beautiful smoky notes that pair so well with the chamomile and saffron. A perfect indulgent dessert with the way the almost-burnt caramel layer fuses on, and becomes one with, the creamy custard. It is nothing short of magic and worthy of being titled the “Greatest Dessert in the World!”
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