This easy crème caramel, similar to flan in its delicate texture, is as simple as it is sophisticated. You’d expect nothing less from the French, no?
“I find this dessert such a simple comfort,” says author Edd Kimber. “Perhaps it is the memories of eating it as a child, or maybe it’s the texture.” We can’t say for certain, either, exactly what the most compelling component of this crème caramel would be, we’re just grateful it exists in all its silken, sophisticated splendor. One taste and we think you’ll concur.–Renee Schettler
☞ Table of Contents
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
For the caramel
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar (or just blitz granulated sugar in a blender until finely ground but not powdery)
- 3 tablespoons cold water
For the custard
- 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
- Generous 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 4 large or extra-large eggs
- Scant 2/3 cup superfine sugar
Prepare the oven and ramekins
- Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Place four 3 1/2-inch ramekins (or heatproof containers of a similar size) in a roasting pan.
Make the caramel
- Put the sugar and water in a small pan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has dissolved. Once the syrup is clear, stop stirring (this can cause crystallization) and let the pan remain over the heat, without touching it, until the sugar caramelizes, which may take anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes. The second that you have a caramel with a dark copper color, remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour it evenly among the prepared molds. (Be careful that the caramel doesn’t cook too far as it can burn easily.) Let the caramel puddles sit while you make the custard.
Make the custard
- Cut the vanilla bean, if using, in half and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds or vanilla bean paste in a medium pan and add the milk and cream. Heat gently over medium-low heat until the mixture is hot but not boiling, 5 to 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and beat together until pale. Once the milk mixture has come to temperature, remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour the mixture over the eggs, stirring constantly. Using a ladle, divide this custard equally between the prepared ramekins. Put the roasting pan in the oven and add enough cold water so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the molds. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the custards have set around the outside but still have a wobble in the center and register 170°F to 175°F (76°C to 79°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer.
- Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven. Lift out the custards and put them onto a wire rack to cool. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap then transfer them to the refrigerator to chill overnight. To serve, use a knife to gently loosen the custards from the ramekins. Place a serving plate on top of each ramekin and invert it to turn the custards out. Make sure all the caramel drains from the ramekin onto the custard. Serve. (The crème caramels will keep, in their ramekins, for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’ve made creme caramel many times, and this is one of the best versions I’ve ever had. I used 3-inch ramekins and was able to fill 6 of them. The texture of the custard was pretty much perfect. It was firm but creamy, and the vanilla flavoring came through perfectly. Be sure to take the pan off the stove as soon as the caramel appears to be getting to the correct color, or in just a few more seconds, it will turn a much darker color and become burnt and bitter. Also, to prevent the caramel from continuing to cook, be sure to immediately pour it into the ramekins. I served this with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream. In season, I will also add a few fresh berries to the plate. I used large eggs, and they worked fine.
A classic recipe that’s easy to prepare. It has to be made way in advance, which I always think is so convenient. No stress with dessert, and it’s absolutely delicious. It’s a keeper. Regular large eggs worked just fine. I used a vanilla bean and added the scraped out bean together with the seeds to the milk. I let it come to a simmer, which took 5 minutes, and then steep for 15 minutes. I poured the mixture through a coarse sieve to catch the shells. It took me way longer to bake the custard. After 30 minutes, it was still very liquid-y. It started to set after 40 minutes, and I pulled the molds from the oven after 50 minutes. It would probably help to add hot water instead of cold in the beginning. No problems whatsoever when it came to serving the creme. Just slid a small knife along the rim, and they came out after inverting. Plenty of sauce.
Simple, elegant, and delicious—if you haven’t had creme caramel in a while, you’ll enjoy being reintroduced to this unassuming classic. The layered sweetness in the caramel and custard and the aroma of vanilla are a delightful combination. What I like about this recipe is that it skips two steps that are typically seen in flan recipes—putting the liquid custard through a sieve and boiling water for the roasting pan. The results didn’t suffer at all. The custard baked evenly (it took 40 minutes in my oven) and came out perfectly silky and smooth. After you invert the ramekin, hold firmly and give it a gentle jiggle, and the creme caramel will release easily. I used extra-large eggs. My ramekins are 3 1/2 inches in diameter and 1 3/4 inches high; capacity is 6 ounces each. The custard filled the ramekins almost to the top, which scared me a bit. But it turned out to be just fine, as the custard didn’t increase in volume during baking—no spilled mess. It just made moving them into the oven challenging. The custard took 40 minutes to set. It had formed a very thin layer on the top that was dryer (but not hard), and I didn’t see the center wobble very much as the recipe suggests. A quick research revealed that the internal temp should be 170 to 175°F for flan. Mine had hit 172°F when I took it out of the oven, and the texture of the custard was just perfect.
The way my mother spoke about creme caramel, it was the classiest dessert around, though the author here describes it as the most basic of baked custards. When I saw the recipe pop up, I’ll admit I thought old-fashioned and dated at first, but those feelings were overridden by classy, nostalgic, and homey, and I went ahead with it. I used the best available ingredients, thinking that with so few ingredients, each and every one really counts. I used superfine sugar, a beautiful vanilla bean, superior quality whole milk and heavy cream, and extra-large eggs, plus precisely the 3 1/2-inch ramekins called for. It took another 6 minutes to reach the dark copper color for the caramel, and it was perfect. While the author cautions against cooking the caramel too far, my general problem is not letting it go far enough. Worrying and fretting that it’ll burn causes me to prematurely remove from the heat. The dark color is key to the flavor combination here. After chilling overnight, the taste test was a unanimous success. Heavenly! One of my cooking and testing partners commented before the ramekins went into the oven, when we were concerned that they would not set, that if they weren’t good, she would freeze them and make ice cream. I’d read about a chef partially freezing creme caramel to make a sort of semifreddo, and we tried one like this after tasting it chilled as directed. This was liked by all and preferred by some. My preference was for the chilled rather than partially frozen version. Note also that this would be a terrific use for the duck eggs sometimes seen at farmers’ markets. I am always wondering what I would do with duck eggs, and since they’re richer than chicken eggs, they’d be a natural pairing for this very rich dessert. While it would affect the bake time, I’d be happily sated with a smaller serving. A whole ramekin of creme caramel after a full meal was a little bit too much for me.
Originally published March 06, 2016