Creme Caramel, a.k.a “flan” and “pudim”, has much to recommend it: you use whole eggs (so no separating and then wondering what to do with the whites) and you can prepare it completely in advance, so no need to stay sober until you wield the blowtorch as with crème brûlée.
This will produce four servings assuming, like me, you’re using four 150mL china ramekins. For the custard you’ll need:
- 3 eggs (this is where free range will really make a difference)
- 400mL full cream milk (semi skimmed will do at a pinch, but consider adding a splodge of cream)
- 25g caster sugar for the custard
- another 100g of caster sugar for the caramel
- 1tsp vanilla extract or stuff to infuse, e.g. spices and peel
Start with the caramel, but first, have your ramekins ready at one side. You’ll need a scrupulously clean stainless steel saucepan; under no circumstances try this with non stick. Put the sugar in and add just enough water to cover; two or three tablespoons. Get the heat up to medium and stir gently until dissolved, that is, until you can’t see any sugar crystals, nor feel them crunching under the spoon. The liquid will go clear. This ought to take a minute or two. Once that’s done, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle but constant bubble. From time to time, use the handle of the saucepan to gently swirl the contents around, but do not insert a spoon or anything else. The liquid will stay clear for around ten minutes, but within the space of a minute will go from being the colour of weak tea to being burnt and horrid.
Don’t wait for that to happen, but take it off the heat when it’s the colour of dark honey, and tip it into the bottoms of the ramekins that have been waiting patiently to one side. Working quickly, swirl each of the ramekins around to make sure the caramel is in an even layer. Put them somewhere to set, at room temperature; not in the fridge.
Whilst they’re setting, pour the milk into the saucepan in which you made the caramel. Heat it gently, but take it off the heat before it boils, and add anything you’re infusing, although if you’re using vanilla extract, I’d be inclined just to beat it in during the next step. Leave the milk to cool for about ten minutes, so it gets down to a whisker under 50°C. (Get the oven going, now.) You’ll notice the remains of the caramel will have been absorbed into the milk – this is a trick from Delia. (Boil the kettle, now.)
Plonk the eggs, the vanilla extract, and the 25g of caster sugar into a large bowl, beat well, and gradually add the hot milk, still stirring.
Put the ramekins into a roasting tin, pour in the custard, almost to the top, and then add enough hot water from the kettle to come two thirds of the way up the outsides of the ramekins. Generally easier to do this with the baking tray already on the shelf in the oven.
My fan-forced oven needs to be set to 150°C for this, and the custards take around half an hour, although start to check every few minutes after the first twenty minutes have elapsed. You can tell they’re done when they go from splashy to wobbly when you very gently nudge the roasting tin. Any sign of bubbling or puffing and they need immediate rescue. They will also tend to form a rubbery skin in a fan-forced oven if left too long, not really sure I have an answer for this.
Take the ramekins out of the roasting tin (tongs!) and leave them to cool. When mainly cold, cover with cling film and pop them in the fridge for a at least a few hours so the caramel softens and merges into the custard. You can happily leave them overnight, or even for two nights.
Unmoulding them needs a little practise, and expect at least one to land upside down on your first attempt. The custard generally sticks to the ramekin just around the edges at the very top, so detach gently with a butter knife. You’ll probably then need to run the knife down to the bottom all the way around around the edge. Put a small deep rimmed plate upside down on top of the ramekin and invert. It may come out, otherwise slip the butter knife in between the custard and the wall of the ramekin, and it will come slithering out. Serve immediately.
All sorts of fun to be had:
- replace some of the milk with cream
- add a yolk or two for extra richness
- infuse the custard with lemon or orange peel
- infuse with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg etc
- maybe a splash of rum?
- intriguingly, Portuguese recipes seem to use half milk and half condensed milk, although I’ve never tried this