The Crema Catalana recipe is a classic of the Spanish cuisine, worldwide famous, but often confused with another culinary masterpiece: the Creme Brulee. This dessert is great for all the occasions: the end of a family dinner as a little sin before going to bed! This creamy dessert is enriched with a thin crust of caramelized sugar, crunchy and delicious. Here the recipe and the history of Crema Catalana!
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ORIGIN OF CREMA CATALANA
The Crema Catalana is one of the most worldwide famous Spanish desserts. In Spain it is commonly called Crema de Sant Josep: indeed this creamy dessert is traditionally served the 19th of March, for the festivity of the Saint.
The origin of the Crema Catalana is ancient and legendary. The legend wants the creation of this sweet due to a mistake and a delicious remedy. The Nuns of a Catalan convent prepared a flan in honor of a bishop came to visit. Unfortunately, the flan came out from the oven too liquid, so a nun poured on the dessert some spoons of scorching sugar. Eating the cream, the bishop yelled Crema! that in Spanish means cream and also “it’s hot!”. Starting from that day, the Crema Catalana is also named Crema Cremada (torched cream)
Besides the legend, it seems the Crema Catalana invention has been inspired by the Creme Anglaise, prepared in England at least starting from the VII Century. Furthermore, in Cambridge, the Creme Anglaise was named Burned Cream and served with the emblem of the college stamped with a scorched stamp over a sugar crust.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN CREME ANGLAISE, CREMA CATALAN, AND CRÈME BRULEE
The battle between the French, English, and Spanish chefs concerning what of these three desserts has inspired the others is harsh. To the dismay of French and Spanish, many persons think that Creme Brulee and Crema Catalana are the same things…
Here the main differences between these three sweets.
CREME ANGLAISE – It is considered by many the”forerunner” of all the egg cream recipes. The official recipe of Creme Anglaise was written in XVII Century, but probably its origin is much older. The Creme Anglaise is composed of eggs and milk cream, without any flour or cornstarch.
CREME BRULEE – The recipe for Creme Brulee was published for the first time on the Cookbook Le Cuisinier Royale et Bourgeois in 1691. It is basically a Creme Anglaise made with half milk and half cream plus some flour (but many versions avoid using the flour). The Creme is successively baked in a bain-marie casserole, then torched to caramel the sugar crust.
CREMA CATALANA – The first written news of Crema Catalana is dated on the XVIII Century, so it seems to be the younger variation of these creams. Crema Catalana is made exclusively with milk plus some cornstarch to thicken a bit the mixture.
HOW THICK HAS TO BE CREMA CATALANA?
This is a hard question. Many chefs prefer to serve the Crema Catalana pretty liquid, but some others prepare this sweet thicker. The quantity of cornstarch usually range from 2.5 to 5.5 tbsp per 1 Qt milk. Same thing about the eggs: the standard recipe requires 8 yolks per 1 Qt milk, but some variations suggest up to 15 yolks.
SPICES AND FLAVORS
The original flavors of Crema Catalana are Lemon peels and Cinnamon sticks. In addition to these, even if not strictly traditional, vanilla bean or orange peels pair perfectly with the taste of eggs and milk.
HOW TO MAKE THE CREMA CATALANA CRUST
The sugar crust is traditionally made with a special iron burner called Salamander, but nowadays the majority of the chefs prefer to use a culinary torch. Some recipes suggest to broil the Crema into the oven. Personally, I discourage this option: in this way the risk to create lumps into the custard is high. Furthermore, Crema Catalana has to be served cold with just the crust hot.
CREMA CATALANA RECIPE
- 1 Qt (1 Lt) whole milk
- 8 yolks
- 4.5 tbsp (40 g) cornstarch
- 1 organic lemon
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 11 tbsp (160 g) caster sugar + more for the crust
- FLAVORED MILK
First of all, pour the milk into a pot, then add the yellow peels of an organic lemon and 2 cinnamon stick. Now, place the pot over medium flame and heat until you see the first bubble simmering.
- EGGS AND SUGAR
Meanwhile the milk is on the heat, crack the eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Now, pour the yolks into a bowl and combine with 11 tbsp of sugar. Add also 4.5 tbsp of sifted cornstarch or the amount to obtain your preferred density (read the " HOW THICK HAS TO BE CREMA CATALANA?" paragraph above for more information). Whisk the mixture until fluffy and consistent.
- PREPARING THE EGG CREAM
Once the milk starts to simmer, place the pot far from the heat and add the eggs mixture immediately, whisking continuously with energy until consistent. At this point, place the pot again over minimum heat. Keep whisking the cream continually until it reaches the desired density. Now, pour the Crema Catalana into single serving bowls, then cover the cream surface immediately with plastic wrap in order to maintain the moisture. Once the Crema Catalana reach the room temperature, store in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- CREMA CATALANA CRUST
Just before serving, cover the Crema Catalana with a thin layer of sugar and torch it until slightly burnt and caramelized, then serve immediately.
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