Thursday, December 12, 2013

Crème Caramel: A True French Classic

A true French classic, Crème Caramel is undoubtedly one of my favourite desserts. Rich, smooth and decadently delicious, this delightful creamy custard was my 'sweet' of choice growing up in England. Since then, Crème Caramel has taken on magical proportions — anything so outrageously delicious must be impossible to make. Au contraire, or so I discovered this past weekend. Faced with the spontaneous purchase of two-dozen farm fresh, free-range organic eggs from Brooklands Farm, I decided to tackle the time-honoured egg-rich über-pud, Crème Caramel, from the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller.

Keller's recipe is surprisingly easy to prepare and calls for cooking the Crème Caramel in individual ramekins, making for easy, manageable and elegant single servings. All you need are four ingredients: milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. The first step is melting the sugar quickly on the stovetop until it thickens to a rich amber caramel, then pouring it quickly into each of the ramekins. For the custard, warm milk, sugar, vanilla, and eggs are whisked together then poured overtop. 

To ensure that the Crème Caramel bakes slowly and evenly, the custards are set in a hot water bath and cooked for 1 hour at 300°F. Once removed from the oven, the custards are then cooled to room temperature, and served at once, using a small knife to loosen the custard. The ramekins are then inverted, releasing the rich sweet caramel that nestles in a glorious amber puddle around each wobbly pud. Heaven. In his Bouchon cookbook, Keller calls this caramel covered custard, the pinnacle of all bistro desserts, and I agree. 

Crème Caramel

Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of Thomas Keller / Bouchon 

1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp light corn syrup
3 tbsp water

4 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups plus 3 tbsp sugar
5 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract

To make the caramel: In a small saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup and water to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring lightly to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until a rich, amber caramel forms, about 25 minutes. Wash down any sugar crystals from the side of the pan with a wet pastry brush. Pour an equal amount of hot caramel into each ramekin; if the caramel gets too hard, gently reheat it.

To make the custard: Arrange eight 1-cup ramekins in a large roasting pan, and preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large saucepan, bring the milk and sugar just to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, about 5 minutes. Let cool until warm. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk the eggs with the yolks. Slowly whisk in the warm milk mixture and then the vanilla.

Strain the custard and pour it into the prepared ramekins. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the custards for about 1 hour, or until they are set but still slightly jiggly in the centre. Remove the hot custards from the water bath and let them cool on a rack to room temperature, then serve immediately or cover and refrigerate the custards overnight.

To serve, run a thin knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the custard. Invert the crème caramel onto a plate. Repeat with the remaining crème caramels and serve.