I had this amazing dessert for the first time a couple of summers ago in a beach town in Costa Brava (Cataluña). We had dinner with the kids at a nice restaurant next to the beach and then went for a walk; for some reason we didn’t have dessert at the restaurant, but after walking for a while we thought it was time to have something sweet – or they were whining about not getting any dessert. We found a little ice cream shop and were about to get some for the kids when we found out that they only took cash (and we didn’t have any), so we tried to find an ATM but it was nearly impossible so we started walking back to the hotel, on the way there was a small restaurant, very noisy and full of people watching the Barcelona-Real Madrid match, we went in and asked if we could just order dessert, they say sure, I see the crema catalana on the menu and had read about it my guide book as something good to try so I ordered it – it was so good, from then on I ate it as much as I could when while we were in Spain.
When we returned to the US I decided to make crema catalana, then I realized that I should have bought the round iron device to burn the sugar and the small cazuela molds in Spain, so for a while I just made it using ramekins and using a torch or oven broiler to caramelize the sugar, but then one day I was at one of my favorite stores here in Seattle, The Spanish Table, and found that they had the cazuelas and they also had the iron device, I love using it and the kids think it is so much fun to watch the sugar burn, I also think that it makes the burnt sugar taste better and it is easier to keep the cream or custard cold than using the oven broiler. To heat the iron I press it against the stove burner (just make sure the burner is clean), you could also heat in the fireplace or grill.
Now, apparently there is a dispute between Spain and France about which came first: crema catalana or crème brulee, each side claims that the other stole the original and changed the name. While they are very similar, the crema catalana is cooked on the stove instead of the oven, also one of the things I love about the crema catalana is the way the sugar is burnt or caramelized: using a small round hot iron. Crema catalana also uses citrus peel (orange or lemon) to flavor the custard, you can also use cinnamon, I didn’t mainly because my husband has this weird anti-cinnamon thing going on. This Spanish dessert is also lighter than its French counterpart, I made it using a 2:1 ratio for milk to cream, to make it even lighter you can make it just with milk, but use whole milk. Crema catalana is served on March 19th in honor of San Jose (Saint Joseph), which is a big holiday in Spain – equivalent to Fathers day. I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while now, and was reminded about it when I checked Facebook this morning and someone was wishing a happy day to everyone named Jose. Feliz día de San Jose!
2 cups whole milk
1 cup cream
1 vanilla bean
4 strips orange peel (can also use lemon)
1 cinnamon stick – optional
8 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup turbinado or raw sugar
3 tbs corn starch
- Bring the milk, cream, vanilla, orange rind and cinnamon (if using) to a boil over low heat.
- Remove from the heat and let it cool down.
- Strain the milk and cream mixture to remove the vanilla bean, orange peel strips and cinnamon stick.
- Mix the egg yolks and ½ cup of regular sugar until you obtain a thick creamy mixture.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in 4 tbs of milk mixture, the stir it back into the remaining milk.
- Mix the milk in with the eggs and sugar, place it in a double boiler pan (or in a heat resistant glass bowl in a pan of water baño Maria style) over medium low heat, and stirring consistently until the cream thickens, do not let it boil.
- Cool the cream and pour into the ramekins or cazuelas.
- Chill for 24 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve sprinkle 1 tbs of the raw sugar over each ramekin or cazuela, heat the iron and press it against the sugar until it is burnt. You may also use a torch or place it under the broiler in the oven.
- Serve immediately.