Gently jiggling, sitting on a pool of dark caramel sauce! The contrast of this rich eggy custard with the faintly burnt taste of caramel is what makes crème caramel or flan so special. Glossy, shiny and so smooth that every bite just slides across your tongue. Called as Crème Caramel in Italy and flan in Spain, it is a simple baked custard with caramel topping.
I didn’t know how easy it was to prepare crème caramel until I tried it the other day. This year, my goal is to break free of these dessert phobias that I have been building up for years. I did make custard several times in the past but the caramel is what scared me the most. I was pretty sure that I will burn it and I did exactly that on my first try. The fire alarm went on, the sugar got too dark and yet, I poured it in the baking cups. Then, obviously, it hardened like a rock. I got mad and almost felt like giving up but the custard was ready and all I had to do was make the caramel again. The second time, I took a little more precaution and kept gawking at the sugar the entire time as it changes it color to this gorgeous amber shade.
Custard is prepared with milk and egg. Now, some prefer to use condensed milk or half and half or just whole milk. Depending on what you are using, the quantity of the egg whisked in it will also differ. The science behind the ratio is important for the custard to hold its shape and yet taste light.
The goal is to have a silky-smooth custard all the way. It should hold the shape and be cooked all the way but as you shake the bowl, it should jiggle. So, baking time is extremely crucial. To test the doneness of the custard, just slip a pairing knife half way and if it comes out clean, it’s done.
Always remember to strain the custard before you pour it in the baking bowls.
This is the tricky part of the dish. The perfect color and taste of caramel makes the dessert delicious. When you caramelize the sugar, give your entire attention to it. Hot sugar can cause very serious burns. Make sure you use a flat levelled bottom pan for the sugar to cook evenly. Also, try to use a stainless-steel pan or pan with a white base so you can see the color change. It takes about 10 minutes for the sugar to reach the right color at 310 F. Keep in mind that the sugar will continue to darken as it stays on the pan. So, once it reaches a light amber shade, you know it’s ready. The caramel will set almost instantly and you have no time to waste once it’s ready.
Make sure you keep the bowls ready and right next to you as you prepare the caramel. Once the caramel reaches the perfect shade, quickly pour it in the bowls and swirl the bowls around the cover the bottom.
If for some reason you see that the caramel turned too dark, just throw it and start with a fresh batch.
Making the crème caramel may seem daunting at first but if you get the caramel correct and the custard consistency smooth, it will come out perfect the very first time.
- For the caramel
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
for the custard
- ¼ cup sugar
- tiny pinch of salt
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Butter to grease the baking bowls
- To prepare the custard, crack the eggs in a mixing bowl, pour vanilla extract, sprinkle salt and whisk.
- Place a pan on medium heat. Pour the cream and sugar, give it a whisk and let the milk warm up. Do not boil the milk.
- Pour the warm milk into the mixing bowl and whisk to mix everything. Strain the custard and keep it ready aside to be used later.
- Preheat the oven to 350F.
- Brush 4 baking bowls with butter and keep it close to you as you prepare the caramel.
- To prepare the caramel, place a flat levelled heavy bottom pan on medium heat. Drop the sugar and water. Do not mix. Let it cook at medium heat. In about 3 minutes, the sugar will dissolve and in about 5 to 7 minutes, the color will change to light golden shade.
- Take it off the heat and very quickly pour the caramel into the baking bowls. Swirl the bowls to make sure the caramel covers the bottom of the pan.
- Pour the strained custard into the bowls and cover each bowl with aluminum foil.
- Boil some water and prepare a deep baking pan to place the baking bowls in it. Place the bowls on the deep baking pan and pour hot water until it reaches ½ way up the sides of the bowl.
- Very carefully, place the baking dish on the middle rack of the preheated oven and cook for 35 minutes. If the custard is not set, continue for 5 more minutes. You don’t want to overcook or else it will taste like rubber.
- Once done, carefully remove the bowls from the baking dish. Let it cool down to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 4 hrs or overnight.
- To unmold and serve, keep the serving plates ready. Run a thin knife around the edges of the bowl to release it. Invert a serving plate on top of the bowl and turn the whole thing upside down. The custard should slide out easily. If it doesn’t come out, tap the bottom of the bowl to release it or just shake a little.
- The caramel would cover the top of the custard. Serve immediately.