I’m a very happy woman today, one because my aunt came to visit from Mexico, and two because she brought me some spicy goodies. This could only mean one thing. Mexican dishes soon to come! She felt bad because she forgot the fresh tortillas in her fridge back home, but it didn’t bother me. It just gives me a reason to try out a recipe for homemade fresh tortillas! I can’t wait to start mixing up some spicy dishes. My bland tongued family will be in for a treat.
I’ve been holding out on a few recipes as of late, in particular some dessert recipes. It has a lot to do with my Virgo perfectionist ways, and the desire to test out every recipe until I get it just right. I feel like dessert recipes get better with each tweak, especially considering how temperamental sugar, eggs, and butter can be inside a hot oven. Among the many desserts that I punched out this past holiday, there was one that I really enjoyed. It came out perfectly the first time I ever made it. It was the recipe I got for crema catalana adapted from Laylita. The cream comes out light and delicious and perfectly sweetened.
The main reason I love crema catalana is because of the layer of burnt sugar that rests across the top. I MUST emphasize how much I LOVE burnt sugar. It seems that so many Spanish desserts revolve around the burning of sugar, or sugar and milk to make dulce de leche. It’s an art as far as I’m concerned. I can eat extreme amounts until my teeth scream out and beg for a visit to the dentist. When I was a kid, my father used to let me pick at the burnt sugar flakes at the bottom of the flan pan. Even today, I find myself peeling off the remnants of burnt sugar and eating them like pieces of hard candy. Burn some sugar. It brings joy and warms the soul.
What came first crema catalana or crème brûlée? That’s the eternal question if you ask Spaniards and Frenchmen alike. Both countries, extremely proud of their heritage and culinary history, claim that they were the first to conceive of this dish. In the states, crème brûlée seems to be the most popular, popping up in restaurant menus across the country. Crema catalana is known more among Latino households. Both dishes are very similar and custard-like you could say. The main difference is that crema catalana is made in a baño maria (heating with a double boiler with water on the bottom pot) on the stove and crème brûlée is made in a baño maria in the oven. This recipe is pretty easy, but most importantly it is very tasty.
Crema Catalana Recipe
Adapted from Laylita’s Recipes on Laylita.com
2 cups of whole milk
1 cup of cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 peels of an orange
1 cinnamon stick
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup raw sugar
3 tbs cornstarch
In a medium pot, bring together the milk, cream, vanilla, cinnamon stick and orange rinds, over a low heat. I love vanilla and sometimes add an extra teaspoon for a stronger vanilla flavor. Let the mixture come to a boil and then take it off the stove. Strain the mixture to get rid of any clumps or stray pieces of orange peel. In a separate bowl whisk the 8 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of sugar, until the mixture becomes creamy and thick. Set aside.
Return to the milk and take out 1/3 cup of the milk and mix in a separate bowl with the cornstarch. Get out all the lumps and then stir back into the original milk mixture. Now make a in a baño maria by placing a smaller pot or bowl inside a larger pot containing water. By placing the bowl in the heated water, it prevents the mixture from getting too hot and the eggs from scrambling. Now that the bowl is in the in a baño maria, slowly mix in the egg mixture. Constantly stir and do not let it boil. The mixture will begin to thicken more and when it coats your spoon or whisk, you know it is ready. Put the cream into individual ramekins and let them chill overnight. When I made these I was planning to serve them the same day. I cheated by putting them outside in the cold (we had a snow storm a couple night before) keeping them covered. They were ready to serve in a couple hours. Once they have chilled you can get ready to prepare the burnt sugar.
Burning the sugar…
There are a couple ways to burn the sugar on crema catalana. Traditionally you use a heated circular iron that you press against the sugar to burn it. You can also use a blow torch to burn the top. Since I don’t have either a blowtorch or a circular iron I put the ramekins under the broiler in my oven. Before you put the ramekin inside, make sure that the oven is very hot, and that the broiler is lit. The idea is that you want to burn the sugar without overcooking the cream. Don’t put on the raw sugar until the boiler is ready and hot. You want the fire to burn the sugar. If you put the sugar on top and let it sit, the cream will liquify the sugar before you get a chance to burn it. Once inside, watch them carefully. Remove when the sugar is completely melted and slightly bubbly. It should take between 1-3 minutes. Once they are out allow them to cool.
Yields around 9 ramekins