Crema Catalana

This is one of my all time favorite deserts. I had it for the first time almost twenty years ago in Barcelona, but it was not until I came across this recipe that it became a love affair of mine.

Although being quite similar to the French Crème Brûlée, I give Crema Catalana the edge over Crème Brûlée (but do not get me wrong – I love Crème Brûlée as well) for its citrus flavors and the slightly rough edge that – to me – is so characteristic of the Spanish cuisine and makes it such a favorite with me.

You will find that I am suggesting below to add vanilla to your Crema Catalana. If you resent breaking with tradition, you will skip the vanilla as it has, in fact, no place in a „traditional“ Crema Catalana. However, I tend not to shrink from breaking with the traditional way of preparing a food if I find that an ingredient is a nice addition, and so it happens that vanilla has found its way into my Crema Catalana.

Here are a few more practical tips on the How-To-Make-It:

If you’re not making infusions very often you might fall into thinking „the longer, the better“, but this is not so – in fact, stick rather closely to the suggested time to make your milk, cream and spice infusion. If the spices stay for too long in the milk, the taste will become too intense and actually unpleasant.

Another tricky part of making this dish is thickening the egg and cream mix. If you are too careful with the heat, you may end up stirring your mix until the end of times (and to no avail), if the mix gets too hot and starts boiling, you will – in plain terms – ruin it. In the end, it requires a bit of experience to get it right but do not let that make you shrink from the challenge – it is still less complicated than the famously quoted rocket science, and I recommend you observe the following: Set your stove on a temperature between medium and hot, and ensure that the liquid is steaming steadily, but not too strongly (then it is too hot), and yes, keep on stirring (no need to create an Atlantis here, though – gently, but steadily will do). It should take around ten to fifteen minutes for the mixture to thicken; if you are still stirring by then, increase the temperature by one level. Oh, yes, and do not do what I once did which was forgetting to add the flour to the egg and sugar mix – it turned out to be really, really essential to the whole Thickening-Of-The-Egg-Mixture process!

Ingredients (four portions):

  • 300 ml of cream
  • 300 ml of full fat milk
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 egg yolks (large eggs)
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 heaped teaspoons of flour
  • Sugar for the caramel topping

Preparation:

  1. Mix the cream, milk, orange amd lemon zest in a non-stick frying pan. Cut the vanilla pod open lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla seeds with the back of a knife, add the vanilla seeds to the mixture. Break the cinnamon stick in two halves and add to the mixture. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 1 to 2 minutes. Set aside and allow the milk and cream mix to become infused with the spices.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and the sugar with an electric mixer until very creamy. The colour of the mixture should change to a very light yellow/off-white. Then add the flour.
  3. Bring the milk, cream mixture to the boil, and then immediately take off the stove. Pass it through a fine sieve into a bowl or jug.
  4. Add one to two tablespoons of the milk, cream mixture to the egg yolk mixture to make it a bit more liquid. Pour the rest of the milk, cream mixture back into the pan and stir in the egg yolk mixture.
  5. Heat up the mixture over medium heat while permanently stirring. The mixture should get hot enough in order to thicken, but by no means let it boil. The process takes around 10 to 15 minutes, carefully increase the heat if the mixture should not yet have thickened by then.
  6. Once the mixture becomes a thick cream, it is ready. Take off the stove and pour into individual flat (heat-resistant – Crema Catalana or Crème Brûlée) dishes.  Refrigerate for about 4 to 6 hours, or ideally overnight.
  7. Before serving, sprinkle sugar over the cream (create a thin layer of sugar covering the cream) and caramelize it with a blowtorch. If you do not have a blowtorch, you might also caramelize the sugar right under the (very) hot grill in your oven, although, frankly, the result will most likely not be as good (this notwithstanding, I have met staunch proponents of the „Caramelizing Under The Grill“ option, but my own attempts to do it this way never convinced me of this method). Allow to cool briefly after caramelizing but do serve within approx. 30 minutes from then on or the caramel will go soft.
  8. If you like (and you are easy-going on tradition), pour half a shot or so of Grand Marnier or Triple Sec over your Crema Catalana before serving it and either do not (if you like to enjoy your shot of liquor with the dessert) or do flambé it – your guests will be impressed!

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