Spanish dinner, long in the making

After a few years of talking about having Spanish dinner with some lab friends (2 Catalans and others), we finally pulled something together.  As I was asked to do way back when, I made a rendition of Crema Catalana — turns out it’s the lighter, easier version of creme brulee, and something I plan to repeat on a more regular basis.  It was a great end to a delicious meal of mussels, Spanish tortilla, and fideoa!

After scouring several recipes, I determined that these proportions are pretty consistent, though this recipe is on the low end of the sugar spectrum.  It is also most prevalent to not bake these at all, though one recipe claimed that a slow bake in a 200oC oven adds depth…or just turns it into creme brulee?  I liked simply filling the ramekins and chilling them, and they set well just like that.

The biggest difference I noticed was when it came time to caramelize the tops.  Of course, the standard for crema catalana is to use a salamander (hot iron) to quickly scorch the tops; however, I tried to use a creme brulee torch.  Because the custards are not baked, they’re a lot more moist, causing the sugar topping to quickly dissolve and making it quite tricky to get a good caramel layer on top.  With enough patience I could get them all to caramelize well, but next time I would sprinkle the sugar just as I get to torching that ramekin, or even that half of the ramekin.

My recipe: (inspired by several sources including this, this, this, and this)

1 L (just shy of 4.5 C) whole milk

1 3″ cinnamon stick

1 vanilla bean, insides scraped out

4 sections of lemon peel

These ingredients were combined, throwing in the vanilla bean pod as well, and heated until boiling.  We let cool for a long time.

8 egg yolks (1/2 C)

7 T sugar

2 T cornstarch mixed together

These were mixed together while the milk cooled.  The milk was reheated and some was slowly added to the yolk mix, not getting it warm enough to cook the yolks but warming the yolks slightly.  This mixture could then be added to the rest of the hot milk and heated until thick, coating a wooden spoon.

In my hands, this filled 7 ramekins, 4 ~1 C and 3 that were a little larger.  They were chilled in the fridge overnight, but an hour or two should do.

Just before serving, caramelize the tops.  As mentioned above, take care to add the sugar just before torching so that the sugar doesn’t dissolve, otherwise use a salamander or broiler.

Unfortunately, there’s no photo evidence…I guess we’ll just have to make them again sometime!


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