Crème caramel, with extra caramel on top.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro Nilsson for Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 2010
I don’t remember when it was that I first tasted crème caramel, all I knew was that I loved it, and at the time thought I would also never be able to enjoy this dessert if I were not at a posh restaurant in Singapore ordering it off the menu.
The first time I made this dessert, I thought that there was no way at all that it would turn out right. The Swedish weather was cold, the caramel came out too sticky and too thick, it froze almost immediately upon touching the soufflé dish and I couldn’t wash the dish clean of the solidified caramel even with boiling water! Since the caramel was stuck to the dish, I went ahead with the custard on top of it and thought not to expect too much, writing it off as a failed project.
But against my expectations, it was far from a failed project. And that feeling of amazement followed by utter relief (because I was serving it to guests that evening) at the custard coming out in perfect shape with liquid amber coloured caramel swirling at its base was all the encouragement I needed to continue making what to me is a fail proof dessert!
There are many ways to make a crème caramel, the whole idea being to get it as silky soft to the palate as possible. So you could go ahead and try your favourite versions using double cream or crème fraiche, but what I use are the most basic of ingredients (following Julia Child’s recipe) with just sugar, eggs and milk.
3 tbsp water
550 ml full cream milk
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 vanilla pod, split
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
You’ll need a water bath for baking this in the oven and a soufflé dish or small ramekins if you choose to serve each guest their own individual crème caramel.
To make the caramel, simply leave the 200g sugar with the 3 tbsp of water in a saucepan on medium heat to brown and caramelize. I find stirring the melting sugar very hard not to do, but you’ll need to just sit tight and not stir the melting sugar, else you’ll encourage it to crystallize in the sauce pan.
Once the sugar has caramelized, which should take about 10 – 15 minutes. Pour this into a soufflé dish or into the ramekins, depending on how you would like to serve it, and run the caramel along the sides of the dish to about an inch high. Set side.
In a mixing bowl, beat together with a hand whisk the 3 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks till you get it to a ribbon stage.
Then into another pot, on medium heat, goes the milk with the vanilla essence, pinch of salt and the 50 g sugar that you can use less of if you don’t like the custard itself being too sweet. As soon as the milk is warm, take it off the heat.
You’ll now need to temper the warm milk with the whipped eggs by slowly pouring the warm milk into the egg mixture about a cup full at a time. Each time, whisking the eggs. The purpose is to avoid cooking the eggs into clumps with the warm milk.
Once the eggs are incorporated with the milk, the entire mixture goes into the caramelized dish or ramekins. Set this into the water bath and bake at 150 C for about 1 hour 20 minutes.
Leave this in the fridge overnight or for at least 6 hours. When it’s time to serve this, run a sharp knife along the edge of the custard, loosening it from the dish. Place a deep dish over the crème caramel and turn it over. What you should get is a wonderful pat of crème caramel dripping with golden liquid sugar down its sides on the deep dish.