As I have mentioned before I am a fan of The Great British Bake Off. I am especially fond of the technical challenges. One of the technical challenge recipes from Season 3 was Mary Berry’s recipe for Classic Crème Caramel.
Crème caramel has a creamy, smooth custard with a layer of soft caramel over the top. Wow, you say, this sounds a lot like a Spanish flan. That’s because it is, essentially. Why don’t they just call it flan? Is this some kind of dig against Spain? Nope. They call it crème caramel because there is a British dish call flan that is a quiche-like savory custard with a crust.
I have never made crème caramel or flan before. I’ve eaten plenty of flan and loved it and so I was curious if crème caramel tasted any different. Plus this was a Technical Challenge, which implies that there is some fiddly bits in that recipe that can trip you up on your way to making the perfect dessert.
Here is the recipe.
For the caramel
- 160g/6oz sugar
- unsalted butter, for greasing the ramekins
For the custard
- 4 free-range eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 25g/1oz caster sugar (I didn’t have caster sugar so I put in regular sugar)
- 600ml/1 pint full-fat milk
- pouring cream, to serve
Pre-heat oven 150C/300F/Gas 2. Warm the ramekins in the oven, so they are warm when the caramel is poured in. (Do not butter them yet, that part comes later.)
First make the caramel. Pour the sugar and six tablespoons of water into a clean stainless steel pan. Dissolve the sugar slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon over a low heat. When there are no sugar granules left, stop stirring (really, stop stirring) and boil until the sugar turns a copper color.
I took my caramel to a very dark color. I should have stopped when it was this color below, but I went darker and ended up with a slightly (but not unpleasant) bitter flavor. If you are looking for a spin on a flan have a bitter caramel is a great way to do it. Having some slightly sweetened pouring cream at the end helps to off-set that bitterness.
Remove immediately from the heat to ensure the caramel does not burn. It will continue to cook in the hot pan. Quickly pour the caramel into the warmed ramekins. Set aside to cool and become hard. (Do not put in the fridge because the sugar will absorb moisture and go soft and tacky).
For the custard, whisk the eggs, vanilla extract and caster sugar together in a bowl until well mixed.
Pour the milk into a saucepan, gently heat over a low heat until you can still just dip your finger in for a moment, then strain the milk through a fine sieve onto the egg mixture in the bowl. Whisk together until smooth, then pour the mixture into the prepared ramekins.
In Switzerland it’s easier to find vanilla bean pods that it is to find extract. Therefore, I put a vanilla bean into the milk and heated it up to get out that vanilla flavor. It was going through a sieve anyway so no extra steps were required!
Stand the ramekins in a roasting tin and fill the tin half-way with boiling water from a kettle.
Cook in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the custard has set. Do not overcook the custard – check around the edges of the dishes, to make sure no bubbles are appearing.
I had to fiddle with the temperature of the oven quite a bit. I was convinced there were bubbles around the edge so I turned down the oven. Then they weren’t done after 30 minutes so I cooked them longer. Fiddling with the oven temps adds to the danger of over cooking. You don’t want the custard to be too loose, but you don’t want it extremely firm either – just a bit wobbly in the middle.
Take the crème caramels out of the oven, remove the ramekins from the water bath and set on a cooling rack. When cool, transfer to the fridge overnight so that the caramel is absorbed into the custard.
To serve, loosen the sides of the custard by tipping the ramekin and loosen with a butter knife round the edges. Place a serving dish on top of the ramekin and turn upside down. Serve with pouring cream.
The custard was very smooth and creamy, just they way Mary Berry likes it. I could see the caramel start to peek through when I loosened the custard with my knife so I was excited. There was a little bit of hard caramel left in the ramekin, but most of it slurped out onto the plate. The dark caramel was a good bitter counterpoint to the sweet of the custard, but it’s not a flavor for everyone. I think the next time I make it I might try to make a bourbon caramel flavored flan.
Because it absolutely has to be in the fridge overnight so the caramel can soak into the custard, this is a great make-ahead dessert for a dinner party or other celebration.