If I was to be banished on a deserted island and could only take one thing with me, it would be a lifetime supply of crema catalana (may not be the smartest choice but it’s definitely the tastiest). Crema catalana is like creme brulee done right, a lot more in the way of complex flavours and a much better custard to crunch ratio. That’s not necessarily to say that I wouldn’t eat the French version in a heartbeat but I would definitely trade it in for its Latino cousin any day.
Historically speaking this dessert, also known as Crema de Sant Josep, was made by grandmothers in the Catalonia region of Spain on what is the Spanish equivalent of Father’s Day, March 19th – Sant Josep’s day. Luckily this has changed and the crema can be enjoyed at anytime of the year and in most traditional restaurants.
The major difference from a creme brulee is that the Crema Catalana is made with a mixture of milk and cream as opposed to simply just cream. It is a custard made on the stovetop and set through refrigeration and not baking as is the case with a creme brulee. Furthermore, the custard is infused with citrus peels and cinnamon giving the final dessert a very savory taste profile. The sugar that is sprinkled on top is traditionally burned with a scorched iron as opposed to a brulee torch.
Here’s a basic recipe
750 ml cream
750 ml milk
lemon and orange rinds removed from 4 citrus fruits (avoid the white pith on the peel)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 vanilla beans split length-way with the seeds scraped out (or 2 tsp of extract)
160 g sugar (plus what is needed for dusting)
- Combine the milk, cream, citrus peel, cinnamon and vanilla beans in a pot, bring to a boil and strain.
- Mix the yolks and the sugar in a bowl until frothy and pale in colour. Pour the hot dairy over this mixture in three instalments. Return the custard to the stove on medium high heat
- Cook, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon (about 20 minutes). Strain into shallow ramekins and allow to set in the fridge (expect this to take around 3 hours)
- Before serving, sprinkle sugar on the top and caramelize it using the broil setting in your oven (or with a brulee torch or with the traditional Catalan hot iron)