30 January 2010

Crème Caramel/Brûlée

Once again, this is a thing that Lunduph has been hankering after for ages and since I needed a dessert for this evening, I thought I'd give it a go. I've also recently become the proud owner of Gaston Lenôtre's Desserts and Pastries and thought I'd try it out.


Well, the book only has the Crème caramel recipe and it calls for 4 eggs + 8 yolks. I only had 6 eggs handy and by the way the book calls it Crème à la Vanille Caramelisée, so had to skip it this time.

I've made crème caramel once before, on the first time my parents-in-law came to dinner. Then I used my Mum's recipe and it didn't work quite - I didn't serve it because I couldn't get it out of the bowl. And last night, I couldn't find the recipe either. This is a dish that should be made at least on the night before.

So I had to resort to Delia's Complete Cookery Course. Generally the recipes I've tried from this book, I didn't like much, but it was an emergency.

And this book has two different recipes, one for crème caramel and another for crème brûlée. The former is baked in a bain-marie in the oven, whereas the latter is cooked on the hob, like custard with corn flour as thickener. Whether this is the main difference to these two or not, I don't know. My thought originally was that in crème caramel the caramel goes in the bottom of the dishes, so that it melts and goes runny when the desserts are taken out, whereas the crème brûlée stays in the dishes and has the caramel on top in which case it doesn't melt, but forms a nice crunchy surface.

The crème caramel recipe seemed simpler, so I plodded on with my original idea about these two puds - bake in the oven and do the caramel on top.

I also made the assumption that milk would be involved and I felt generous in the supermarket and bought fancy Jersey milk. Gold top in old money. Delia called for part milk and part single cream. Oh well, that's what happens when you shop before reading the recipe...

Anyway, I'll stop waffling now and get on with the recipe.


425 ml gold top milk
4 medium eggs
40 g caster sugar
2 tbsp medium maple syrup
1 ml vanilla essence
1 dl caster sugar for the crunchy caramel top

The mixture will end up about 800 - 850 ml, so either one big soufflé dish or 6 smaller ones.
A deep baking pan into which the soufflé dish(es) are placed.
Hot water to pour into the baking pan so that it reaches two-thirds of the soufflé dish(es).
Saucepan to melt the sugar.

  1. Heat the milk on low heat, stirring occasionally.

  2. Prepare the baking dish(es) and pre-heat the oven to 150 degrees C. Boil the water to have it ready.

  3. When the milk begins to steam a bit, whisk the eggs, sugar, maple syrup and vanilla essence so that they just come together, preferably by hand so as little foam as possible forms.

  4. When the milk is about to start boiling, pour it into the egg mixture and continue whisking briskly by hand until it's incorporated.

  5. Pour into the baking dish(es), then put the baking tray into the oven and pour in the hot water.

  6. Bake for 1 h, then take out and allow to cool completely, before chilling in the fridge until needed.

  7. Just before serving, melt the sugar in a saucepan on medium heat. This should take about a minute. Do not stir, just shake a couple of times, then when all the sugar has melted, quickly distribute over the crème brûlée and twist and turn the dish(es) to cover the whole surface. It'll bubble a bit as it meets the cold custard. This must be done quickly or the caramel will harden in a too thick layer.

I definitely need to practice on the caramel. It burnt bit, I wasn't quick enough and the crunchy layer was a bit on the thick side. I initially tried with my tiny kitchen blow torch, but it didn't work at all, I think the blow torch is too small, practically a cigarette lighter and I would have run out of the lighting fluid and overheated it, before the sugar melted. Or I used too much sugar. I tried caster sugar and also icing sugar, but it took forever and I gave up. Delia recommended melting the sugar in a sauce pan and that's what I did.

One thing that Delia recommends is to break up the surface before serving, but both Lundulph and I disagree, it's great to get a little dish with the golden shiny surface and to whack it lightly with your spoon and hear it crack.

The custard was lovely and creamy, but the dark caramel dominated the taste and the finer hints of vanilla and maple syrup didn't come through as I'd hoped. Still, very encouraging for a first try and I'll keep practicing.

However, I made the massive mistake of using an electric whisk for the egg mixture and I kept whisking until it pretty much filled the 2 litre bowl, it was that foamy. When I added the milk it went over the edge and made a good portion of my work surface very sticky indeed. I ended up skimming off as much of the foam as I could into the sink.

Lundulph also reckons if the custard goes up to the brim of the dish, sprinkling thin layer of sugar, then holding the blow torch so that the flame is parallel to the surface would do the trick, whereas my dishes ended up half-full and I had to point the torch down into them, thus perhaps I failed at getting the perfect thin layer of caramel.

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