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Whether you call it flan, caramel custard or creme caramel, it’s the world’s most beloved dessert.
Creme Caramel: A Beloved Dessert
I don’t think you’ll find many people who don’t love this. No matter whether it goes by flan, creme caramel or caramel custard, the world loves this stuff.
In fact, I had this for the very first time when I was 13 and my mother took us back home to England for a visit. That’s where I fell in love with this. The Brits call this caramel custard. Later on I discovered it was also a Spanish delight. A friend from Puerto Rico would make it for me all the time; she called it flan.
But whatever you call this, it’s totally delicious. It’s easy to make but you have to pay attention to a couple of things when you make it and I won’t lie, it takes a couple of pots and bowls so there’s clean-up. However, I think it’s worth it and I think you will too.
Make A Good Custard
Making a great custard is pretty easy when you come to think about it. There are some caveats that come along with it and you do need to pay attention to what you’re doing, but that’s about it.
First, you’re dealing with a hot liquid being introduced to eggs. If this step isn’t done properly, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. The way to avoid that is either to “temper” the eggs by putting a few tablespoons of the hot liquid into the eggs whilst whisking. Another way is to pour the hot liquid into the eggs in a slow thin stream whisking all the time you’re doing it. The latter is the method I prefer and after you’ve streamed about a cup of liquid, you can add the rest faster since the eggs are tempered by that time.
Another thing you’ll want to do is to strain the custard through a mesh strainer. There will be some little bits of solid egg in the custard that would be a bit unpleasant in the finished dessert. Straining eliminates that possibility. Nothing is worse than a lumpy custard. Don’t skimp; strain.
Unlike candy caramels/soft toffee, this concoction is merely sugar and water. You let the sugar dissolve so it’s perfectly clear then boil to evaporate the water.
Honestly, this process is like the proverbial watchpot. But pay attention here. Once that gets to boiling and the bubbles become larger and look syrupy, it will go fast. Essentially, you’re making hard candy but you don’t need a candy thermometer to test since your eye will be good enough. Once it almost reaches a dark amber, remove it from the heat immediately because it will continue to cook and be careful–this is very hot and the burn is no fun. Ask me how I know this…
There’s more hints in the recipe instructions so read them carefully for complete success.
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 cups whole milk NO SUBSTITUTES
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large whole eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Place 8 6 oz/17 7ml custard cups in a large roasting pan. Set aside.
- To make the caramel, place the sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, swirling pan to dissolve the sugar. The liquid will appear clear when the sugar is dissolved. It is very important that you do NOT stir this so resist the temptation. Once the syrup begins to boil, place a lid on the pan. This will cause condensation that will "wash" the sides of the pan and prevent the sugar crystalizing. Remove the cover after a minute or 2, then let it boil until it's a dark amber syrup.
- Divide the caramel evenly in each custard cup. Rotate each cup so the syrup coats up the sides. Keep doing this with each cup until the syrup no longer moves.
- To make the custard--Combine the milk, cream, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and making sure sugar is dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a large bowl. Gradually add the hot milk mixture whilst whisking. Do this slowly or else you'll scramble the eggs. Strain the mixture through a strainer so there are no bits of egg (there will be) in the custard.
- Distribute the custard mixture evenly between the custard cups.
- Now boil a kettle of water and pour the water in the baking dish around the custard cups--be careful not to get any water in the custard cups. NOTE--this is easier if you put the roasting pan with the custard cups in the oven first then carefully pour the water in.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the edges are set but the middle still has a little wiggle in it.
- Remove the custard cups to a rack to cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours or up to 3 days.
- To unmold, run a small knife around the the edge of each custard cup to loosen the custard, then invert onto a serving place. Shake the cup a little if it doesn't release.