In 2004, I wandered the heavily beaten backpacker trail around Western Europe. I met up with four school friends in Barcelona and we skittered around Spain and Portugal for five weeks. The Spanish lifestyle was a perfect fit for our little possé of early 20s travellers: warm weather, cheap food, late nights, siestas, sangria and tapas. Every afternoon was spent picking at calamares and olives washed down with clara (beer and lemonade) or tepid vino tinto. (Touristy? Maybe. Tasty? Yes.) To finish off every meal, we always ordered the creme de catalan (especially those in Catalonia!).
Ever since those days, I’ve been meaning to recreate this dish at home. A few months ago, I spotted a recipe in the GT and tried to make it. I had a minor failure. It tasted rather good, but sort of ‘boiled’ when it was in the oven and so the texture was not smooth.
And so, on the weekend, I tried the same recipe again. This dish is simple, yet extremely challenging. Would I succeed in this round, or simply add to the list of recent culinary failures?? Read on to find out…
(Note: for recipe details see the original version at the GT website. I followed it pretty much exactly.)
First things, first. I gathered my ingredients and then pre-heated the oven to 140°C. The recipe said 160°C, but my oven is strangely hot – probably because it’s a fan-forced – which is why it ‘boiled’ the last batch that I made.
In my picture above, you may see a lime and some star anise that are not in the GT recipe. I didn’t put them in the custard, but I thought about it. At Sunnybrae, we made an ice-cream out of custard that was infused with these two flavourants and it was excellent. Particularly with the passionfruit pavlova scroll. But I digress…
In a saucepan, I added the milk, cream, rinds and cinnamon stick and brought it to a simmer. I simmered gently, stirring frequently for fifteen minutes until the flavours were infused. I think I will add another stick of cinnamon next time, or maybe hit it with a pestle first – the custard was not quite spicy enough. When done, I strained the mixture through a fine sieve and discarded the solids.
While I was monitoring my infusing cream and milk mixture, I separated the eggs and measured out the sugar. I whisked this all together. (Another recipe says to whisk these together ‘until thick and pale’. I just mixed them well to combine. Was this where things went awry??)
I then gradually whisked in the cream infusion and put this in a clean saucepan. All was good at this stage.
I stirred this continuously (except when I quickly took some photos) over a low heat. Just when five minutes was up, it began to thicken up quite substantially. I turned the heat off and quelle horreur! (Or, should that be qué horror?) My custard began to split, ever so slightly. I pretended that it didn’t happen and poured the mixture into the cazuelas regardless. On the tea-towel, bathed in hot water, and into the oven for 35 minutes they went.
Here is a close up of the baked crema catalanas, after they had come out of the oven and cooled down. You can see that there is a grainy texture which indicates that they had split.
I pressed on nonetheless. I was ultra keen to use the blow torch that my grandma had given to me for my birthday.
And the eating? They tasted fabulous. The orange rind, in particular, is what makes this dessert one of the greats. The grainy texture was a little off-putting; I was pretty disappointed that this dish was not perfect. Nevermind, I’ll just have to make it again sometime…
ps: Next time, I might try the alternative recipe at the GT site. In that one, you do not put the custard into the oven at all, and you cook it for 30 minutes on the stove top rather than 5. It also has some vanilla beans in it (although I’m sceptical as to whether they are really necessary – the first recipe tastes great). May as well give it a shot – the first recipe has not been successful for me!
pps: Just imagine the perfection of serving these with a sherry of some sort…
ppps: I’ve been doing a bit of research on nutrition for an upcoming post. You may think that this dish is unhealthy, but this is not entirely so. Yes, there’s a fair whack of saturated fat in the egg yolks and milk, and the white sugar is not great for you. However, just think of all the good things: egg yolks contain lots of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12 – all important for vegetarians, especially. Milk also contains protein and calcium. Eat away! (In moderation, of course.)