The originality of this great classic of the French southwester cuisine is much discussed by those who think that it is in reality a Crema catalana, although they are different desserts. And to say that the crême is Catalan, it is like to say that the Catalan cream is nothing but a custard…
Most likely both are an evolution of the classic custard, which already existed in the Roman Republic several centuries before Christ.
The origins of the French version are situated at the end of the seventeenth century, when it appears for the first time in the cookbook Le cuisinier royal et bourgeois, published in 1691, by François Massialot, chef for Philip I of Orlèans, brother of the king Louis XIV of France. The Crema Catalana appears in medieval Catalan recipes (Llibre de Sent Soví-14th century- and Llibre del Coch – 16th century).
The main difference between the two desserts is that the crema catalana is thickened with egg and corn starch, while the crême brûlée is made with liquid cream and eggs, and is cooked au bain-marie in the oven. What they have in common is the crunchy crust on the surface that is achieved by sprinkling sugar and burning it with a cooking torch or an iron burner that is heated until red hot.
- 6 egg yolks
- 3 or 4 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 vanilla pod or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract or natural essence
- 600 milliliters of liquid cream
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
Preheat oven to 140 ° C (284 ° F).
Pour the yolks and sugar into a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until creamy and white. It is not advisable to use an electric mixer or rods because we want to avoid adding air to the cream, since holes will appear on the surface during cooking if we do.
Slice the vanilla pod and extract the seeds with the tip of a knife. Put them in a pot and add the liquid cream. Heat slowly, without reaching the boiling point.
When the cream is hot, pour it gently over the mixture of egg, stirring continuously with the wooden spoon to avoid lumps.
Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins of about 11 cm in diameter. Place these inside a baking tray and add boiling water until it reaches half the height of the molds.
Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the cream sets. Remove the molds from the water bath, let them cool completely, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours.
A few minutes before serving, remove the creams from the fridge, sprinkle with the brown sugar and burn until a golden caramel is achieve. Serve immediately.
If we don’t have a torch or an iron burner, we can heat the oven grill to the maximum temperature and let the sugar caramelize for a few minutes.