Crème caramel: dessert for adults

There is little doubt that a good dessert gives a meal the neat conclusion it requires. Sadly, most desserts seem to be designed for the palates of children, with a massive overdose of cloying sweetness. Then along came crème caramel: not only a grown-up taste, but also a truly masterful addition to your culinary skills.

Crème caramel: dessert for adults
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To make crème caramel dessert for six, you will need:

  • ½ litre fresh cream
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 130g castor sugar
  • Brown sugar as required
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh orange zest
  • 6 ovenproof glass or ceramic ramekins 
  • Large baking pan

First, the equipment. If you lack ramekins (who doesn’t?) then demitasse coffee cups make very good substitutes. The baking pan will function as a bain-marie or steaming bath. More of this later. Next, the exotic thrill of a real vanilla pod. Although quite expensive, these give any recipe that requires vanilla flavour a lift-off that no little brown bottle of industrial vanilla essence can ever equal. On the other hand, if speed, availability and cost are issues, then the little brown bottle is the way to go.

And so it begins. Choose a saucepan and into it pour the half-litre of fresh cream. Bring this up to a medium heat, keeping a sharp eye on the process. Add the vanilla essence or pod. Slice the pod open lengthwise with a sharp paring knife. Spill the tiny seeds into the cream as it heats up and add the now-empty pod itself.

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With a paring knife, a fine grater or dedicated zesting tool, remove the zest of an orange and then add a teaspoon of the fragrant fragments to the hot cream. Let the temperature continue to slowly rise to just below boiling point. Keep stirring during this process to avoid burning, which should it happen, will truly destroy the entire enterprise.

Separate the yolks from two eggs. Then, in a mixing bowl, combine them with four whole eggs. Add about half the amount of castor sugar (use your eye to judge) plus the near-magical pinch of salt. Gently mix these ingredients together, taking care to avoid frothing – the liquid mass must be dense.

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Pour the hot cream mixture through a sieve, then add this to the egg and sugar combination. Pour this into ramekins or small coffee cups. Add hot water to the baking pan which you are going to use as a bain-marie. Carefully lower the ramekins into the hot water, topping it up so that it is at the same level as the crème brulee mixture. Stick this into the oven for 30 minutes or until the mixture has set. Remove and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Spread a thin layer of brown sugar over the top of each crème brulee. Now for the drama of intense heat. With a butane torch, nuke the sugar so that it caramelises into a dark crust. And what do you get? A hot crust that crumbles to reveal the chilled vanilla-flavoured confection. A blast!