Introduction to Entremets : Crème Caramel
Crème caramel is one of those desserts I always loved to order in a restaurant because the cool elegant custard-topped with an ever so slightly penetrated rich delightful caramel that dripped seemed magic to me, like it must be something very difficult to achieve in your average home kitchen. There are so many products being sold in the grocery stores, like caramel sauces, syrup or flavoring and mixes for custards and flans, I thought perhaps these products existed because the real thing from scratch might be technical or difficult for a home cook. The reality is that these products are meant to fool us into thinking we can't do it.
Caramel, like I have said many times, is a lot more simple and inexpensive than anyone might imagine. In its simplest form, caramel only has one ingredient: sugar. Here where we live, right now, sugar costs a little less than 1 euro a kilo, which would be about 60 cents a pound. When calculated, even with France being in the expensive range for foodstuffs, the price per person if they take seconds (which is to be expected in this house) is 50 centimes each. The crème caramel has only 4 ingredients, sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla. So tie on your aprons, friends. Let’s knock out some crème caramel.
Recipe: Crème Caramel
Serves 8 elegant French ladies for a quarter (or 4 gourmands at 50 centimes each)
500 ml or 2 cups whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
250 g or 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs, whole
50 g or 1/4 cup sugar
30 g or 1 oz. water
Heat the oven to 160C/325F and take out a roasting pan with a flat bottom into which you can fit 6 or 8 ramekins, measuring on what size you want your dessert to be. The ramekins do not have to be buttered or greased in any way. Line the bottom of the roasting pan with paper towels and place the ramekins in on top of the paper towels. This is to make sure the ramekins don’t shift or slide, splashing water when you move them from the counter to the oven and back again. Bring about a liter or quart of water to a boil and keep hot while you prepare your crèmes.
Make the custard. It’s quite simple. Bring the milk to a boil and add the vanilla off heat. Whisk the eggs and the sugar together in a separate bowl. Pour a small amount of the hot milk into the eggs to warm them, then add the remaining milk and stir to fully combine. Strain this mixture into a large measuring cup with a spout. Reserve for the 5 minutes it will take to make the caramel.
Make the caramel. Heat the sugar and water over high heat in a heavy bottomed pan until it forms a caramel. You can tell it’s getting close when it begins to turn color. Keep cooking it and watch it, looking for smoke. The perfume of caramel will come first, and when that happens, swish it around and watch it carefully for smoke. It will turn dark. When the first wisp of smoke appears, give it a quick stir, remove it quickly from the heat and pour about a tablespoon of the hot caramel directly into the bottom of each of the prepared ramekins, turning them about in your hand one by one as you fill them to spread the caramel over the entire surface of the bottom. (careful, this caramel is hot!)
Place the caramel lined ramekins into the bottom of the roasting pan and pour the custard mixture into them, filling enough to distribute the cream evenly between all of the ramekins. Pour the boiling water gently into the roasting pan to surround the outside of the ramekins with water,, being careful not to get any water into the ramekins themselves, until the water line goes up to about 2/3 up the outside of the ramekins. Transfer the pan gently to the oven and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. When you remove them from the oven, the custards will still be jiggly. Remove the ramekins directly from the water and allow to cool to room temperature before transferring them to the refrigerator to chill. When I have guests coming and want to offer crème caramels as part of a multi dessert offering, I will prepare these the day before their arrival, knowing that if I cover them and keep them refrigerated, they will keep for several days.
Cool in the ramekin and then unmould before serving by running a knife around the sides, then turning over into a shallow bowl or plate.