Food I cook for my family, baking recipes, cookbook reviews, and your cooking questions answered
Sometimes we all need a dessert that reminds us of our childhood. I recall my grandmother making crème caramel for me as a treat. She didn’t have an oven so she would steam the bowls of custard and named it caramel custard. It used to be quite eggy, but I loved it anyway. I have tried a few recipes, including one by Alton Brown, another favourite American chef. But the final proportions in my recipe are inspired by a version I liked best, by Felicity Cloake for crème caramel in the Guardian.
Dairy & eggs:
I do indulge a bit more than my grandma did, and include a little bit of cream in the mix. I don’t however, go the rich French route of using only yolks, as it’s a right pain having so many egg whites left over, and with added richness from the cream, one can afford to use more whole eggs. Use either 3 whole eggs plus 1 yolk, or for for a richer result, use 2 whole eggs plus 4 yolks.
Don’t be afraid of making caramel. Although I would advise caution because caramel is way hotter than boiling water, and burns can be very unpleasant. There are two ways to make caramel, a dry method, where you just let the sugar melt, favoured by my mother and grandmother, and now by me. And there’s the wet method, where you mix a little water into the sugar, let it dissolve fully and then increase heat to caramelise. The problem with the latter is that if the heat is increased before the sugar dissolves completely, the caramel won’t form, and the sugar will crystallise. If you prefer the latter, by all means follow that.
Either way, avoid stirring, and just swirl the pan to mix. If necessary use a wooden spoon to stir towards the end to get an even colour. I like making this dessert in small individual portions, as they are easy to serve and store. Use ramekins or individual pudding basins, or even small cups.
This is an excellent dessert for kids. Apart from the sugar, of which there isn’t too much, the other ingredients are dairy and eggs, both of which are really good for them. This is an everyday dessert, so as such I keep the ingredient list simple and the end result not too rich.
120gsugarall white or a combination of white and brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 150C (140C fan). Butter 6 ramekins or pudding basins and set aside. (This isn't essential, but it helps with unmoulding the dessert).
Pour the milk and cream into a small pan, cut the vanilla pod in half and scrape the seeds into the pan. Add the pod and bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat, cover and leave to infuse while you make the caramel.
Put the sugar for the caramel in a heavy saucepan in an even layer (preferably stainless steel so you can see the colour of the caramel). Leave on the lowest heat, and you will see the edges of the sugar beginning to melt.
Don’t swirl the pan until the bulk of the sugar is melted and caramelising. At this stage, gently swirl to mix the unmelted bits with the hotter bits on the edge. Don’t increase the heat until all the sugar has completely melted.
Once all the sugar has melted, you can increase the heat and cook until the sugar is evenly golden, and smelling like caramel. It all happens quickly so watch like a hawk. Remember it will continue to darken after you turn the heat off, so err on the side of caution.
As soon as it’s achieved a light caramel colour, take if off the heat and quickly divide between it between the 6 moulds. Give each mould a quick swirl before it sets so that the base of each mould is well covered (see note below). Leave the caramel to cool about 5 minutes and meanwhile complete the crème.
For the crème, put the eggs, yolks and the sugar into a heatproof bowl and whisk together until just mixed. Remove the vanilla pod from the milk and slowly pour into the bowl, whisking all the time.
Boil some water in a kettle for the bain-marie (water bath) to bake the custards.
Then pour the egg mix through a sieve into the ramekins and put in a baking tray, which is at least 2” deep and can comfortably fit all 6 bowls. Cover each bowl tightly with foil. Pour hot water into the tray to come up about 1/2" up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 12-15 minutes.
The custard should be just set but still slightly wobbly at the centre. Check with a knife if in doubt. Remove from the bain-marie and leave to cool. Refrigerate until completely cold.
To unmold, and run a slim non-serrated knife around the outside of each mould and invert on to plates. Sometimes you might find some stubborn caramel stuck at the bottom of the moulds, in that case, dip the base of the moulds in hot water briefly before turning out.
Tip - If your kitchen is cold, the caramel might set too quickly in the ramekins before you have a chance to swirl it around the base. If so, briefly warm the ramekins in the pre-heated oven for a few minutes, whilst you are preparing the caramel.