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Crema Catalana, in English “Catalan Custard” or “Catalan Cream”, is just like the Arroz con Leche (Rice with Milk) one of most traditional Spanish desserts.
The Crema Catalana is originally from Catalonia (Barcelona, Girona,….) where it is known as “Crema” (cream) or “Crema Quemada” (burnt cream), but this dessert is so easy to make that it´s prepared throughout all Spanish homes.
I like to prepare this dessert using traditional ingredients but there are many possibilities when it comes to flavouring the milk to adapt the recipe to your liking.
Next, you can see the recipe that I published, several years ago, on my Spanish blog. A recipe that lots of my blogger friends have tried and besides being very easy, always turns out delicious.
By the way, don´t miss out at the end of the recipe, more information about the Crema Catalana: its history, tips, curiosities …and at the end there is also a video explaining the full recipe.
So now you know …. Get ready and let’s go to the kitchen!!!
HOW TO MAKE AUTHENTIC CREMA CATALANA
- 4 cups of whole milk (1 litre)
- 6 large egg yolks (size L eggs)
- 1/2 cup of sugar (100 grams) plus a little more to caramelize on top
- 1/2 cup of cornstarch (50 grams)
- A quarter an orange peel
- A quarter a lemon peel
- 1 cinnamon stick the size of a finger
- Put the milk in a pan. Add the orange and lemon peel, and a stick of cinnamon the size of a finger. Leave on medium-high heat until the milk almost boils, remove from the heat, cover the pan and set aside and let the milk infuse from 30 minutes to an hour.
- Next put in a bowl the egg yolks and sugar. Mix just enough to integrate the sugar. Then add the cornstarch and mix again, just a little.
- Now put a fine sieve over the bowl where the eggs are and strain the milk that we have infused. Mix until everything is well integrated, but don´t mix more than necessary.
- Pour the contents of the bowl into a pan and heat over medium heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula. To know when the Crema Catalana is ready, you have to look at the back of the spoon. The cream will be ready when a very dense layer forms on the back of the spoon.
- When the Crema Catalana has thickened, we immediately remove it from the heat.
- Put a fine sieve over a large bowl and strain the cream. This way, if we didn’t stir the Crema Catalana enough and a bit of egg has set, we can easily remove it.
- Divide the cream into 6 shallow dishes or 4 larger ones and leave to cool before covering them with plastic wrap, place in the fridge for at least 4 hours (they taste much better if left overnight).
- When the creams have set, add a little sugar on top before serving and with the help of a culinary blowtorch caramelize the sugar so that it forms a crispy and thin layer of caramel. And that’s it, now all that´s left to do is enjoy your Crema Catalana !!!
- Do not use an electric mixer. Beat by hand to prevent foam from forming on the surface.
A LITTLE HISTORY ABOUT THE CREMA CATALANA
This dessert appears in Catalan literature from as early as the 14th century and is considered one of the oldest desserts in Europe (see Wikipedia).
The Crema Catalana is an evolution of the traditional custard (English Cream), an even older dessert that dates back to the Roman Republic.
We must bear in mind that the two recipes use the same ingredients, but when we make the Crema Catalana we thicken the cream more.
The point of thickness will determine the use that we´ll give it. If we want to use it as a filler, it will have to be much more compact so that it stands well.
However, if we are going to serve it in a small dish or a bowl with its characteristically caramelized sugar, we can choose to leave it more or less liquid, although never as much as custard.
By the way, the caramelized sugar that this cream has on top makes many people think it´s a Creme Brûlée but as we will see below there are several differences.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CREMA CATALANA AND CREME BRULEE
The first difference between these desserts is their origin. Crema Catalana is Spanish and Creme Brûlée is French.
Creme Brûlée usually uses cream among its ingredients and the Spanish recipe only uses milk, although as we will see later, this will depend on everyone’s different in taste.
Finally, the fundamental difference between these desserts is the cooking method.
The French version uses a bain-marie, like when preparing a flan, which involves turning on the oven and using oven proof moulds.
The Crema Catalana is cooked directly over the heat making it much easier to prepare and can be served in any container without the need to be oven proof.
Despite these differences, both recipes use practically the same ingredients and a common link: caramelized sugar on their surface.
THE BURNT CREAM
The caramelized sugar on top of the cream is what makes many people confuse the Creme Brûlée because when translated into English means burnt cream, with the Crema Catalana, since visually they look the same but as we have seen before, are two different recipes.
To caramelize the sugar we have several options:
The first and most traditional of all is using a “pala para quemar” or “quemador” (branding iron). It´s warmed over the heat and then placed on the sugar that we sprinkled on top of the cream.
They can also be electric, which plug in and allow the sugar to caramelize without having to light the fire.
Both types have the advantage that once hot they allow to caramelize the sugar of many creams at the same time.
The downside is that you have to buy another item for your kitchen and if you are only going to use it from time to time, then it´s not worth buying one.
The second method, which I use, is to use a small culinary blowtorch. They are usually cheap and allow you to burn the sugar easily. They can also be used for other things.
The last method is let’s say the last resort. I have read it in several books but I have never put it into practice so I can´t guarantee that it works 100%.
You turn on the oven grill and put the shallow dishes as close as possible to the top so the sugar caramelizes. If you use this method you will have to make sure to use containers that can withstand high temperatures and be very careful not to burn yourself when handling them as they will get very hot.
CHANGING THE INGREDIENTS:
To prepare the authentic Spanish recipe you only need lemon, orange peel and a cinnamon stick.
But as I showed you in the Arroz con Leche recipe, it´s possible to flavour the milk with different ingredients to adapt the recipe to your liking.
Ferrán Adriá, one of the most known Catalan chefs, tells us in his book “La cocina de la Familia” that he uses green anise or matalauva (Pimpinella anisum) to flavour the milk.
Another option is to add a little cream or replace all the milk with a vegetable milk to make a Vegan Catalan Cream.
By the way, this is a gluten-free dessert and therefore 100% suitable for celiacs.
I hope you try making this dessert at home and tell me what you think of the recipe.
Kind regards from the kitchen.