Crema catalana is the Spanish version of creme brulée. Creme brulée is a straight custard cream (it only contains milk, sugar and egg and sets in the oven.) In difference, crema catalana is a cross between pudding and custard cream. That means that it contains two thickening agents – egg yolk and cornstarch – and it is made in a pan, not in the oven.
For 4 servings you need
- 500ml milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 egg yolks
- 150-200g confectioner’s sugar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- Heat milk in a pan. Cut open vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds, and add seeds, the empty pod and the cinnamon stick to the milk. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Whisk egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl.
- Remove cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod from the hot milk.
- Slowly add the hot milk to the egg yolks while whisking continuously. (Adding it slowly and whisking prevents the egg yolks from curdling.)
- Pour the mixture into a bain-marie and carefully heat it while whisking continuously. It will thicken in two steps – first the egg yolks make it slightly thicker (like a vanilla sauce), and at a higher temperature the cornstarch will thicken it further to a pudding-like consistency. Remove from the bain-marie at this stage and keep whisking for another half minute to make sure the eggs don’t curdle.
- Pour into small oven-proof cups and refrigerate.
- For serving, pour sugar on top and melt the sugar into a caramel crust (using a blow torch, your oven’s grill, or a salamander if you have one.)
“Bain-marie” is fancy kitchen speak for water bath. If you don’t have a bain-marie pot, just fill a saucepan with 5cm of water and bring it to a boil; then place a smaller long-handled saucepan inside it. Make sure the bottom of the inner saucepan doesn’t touch the bottom of the outer pan. The purpose of a bain-marie is to prevent the inside pot from becoming hotter than 100ºC; this is achieved by putting it in boiling water (which can never be hotter than 100ºC.) If the bottom of the inner pan touches the outer pan, it could transmit heat directly to the inner pot, and could become hotter than 100ºC in spots.