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What is CrèMe Caramel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Crème caramel is a French dessert with a simple custard base and a soft caramel topping, related to crème brulee except that the dessert is not fired before serving to create a hard sugar crust. A number of nations make variations on crème caramel, and the dish is extremely popular. Since it is served chilled, crème caramel is an excellent dish to pair with a heavy or hot meal, since it cools and calms the stomach. It is also remarkably easy to make, requiring a few simple tools and ingredients.

In much of the Latin American world, crème caramel is known as flan. Flans are often flavored with assorted things, and they may be baked with heavy cream for a more intense flavor. In Italy, the same dish is called crema caramella, and it is sometimes known as crème renversée in French, a reference to the fact that the dish is inverted when it is served.

Usually, crème caramel is baked in individual ramekins, with a layer of caramel in the bottom and custard on top. When the crème caramel is served, the ramekin is inverted onto a plate, and it may be garnished with mint, chocolate shavings, another sauce, or anything else the cook might imagine. Typically, the dessert is flavored with vanilla, although other flavorings could certainly be used as well, including caramel for a double dose of caramel cream on the plate.

To make crème caramel, start by heating two cups of milk until it is scalded, but not yet boiling. While the milk heats, whisk four eggs together with one cup of sugar until the mixture turns pale. Slowly add the milk to the mixture, allow it to cool to room temperature, sieve it, and set it aside, ideally under refrigeration. The base can be flavored with vanilla beans simmered in the milk, or the addition of flavor extracts.

Once the custard base has been made, melt one cup of sugar in one tablespoon of lemon juice, using a heavy saucepan, until the mixture turns golden brown. Immediately turn out into ramekins or custard dishes, and allow it to cool before adding the custard base. Put the ramekins into a water bath, which will help prevent cracking, and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) for 30-40 minutes, until the custard jiggles slightly when bumped. Allow the ramekins to cool before refrigerating, and serve chilled with a garnish of choice.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By bfree — On Sep 05, 2011

@Sierra02 - My mother taught me a method for cooking creme de caramel that turns out perfect every time. I don't know exactly what measurement of ingredients your using but for the sake of this post, I'll assume you used a standard recipe.

To start with combine the sugar, cream and vanilla in a saucepan on the stove. Bring to a scalding but do not boil. Then add the mixture to the egg yolks but be careful not to incorporate too much air.

Then I place the ramekins on a sheet pan and fill them with the cream mixture. Put the pan in a oven set at 375 degrees and fill the pan up with water.

Now take another sheet pan, and this is a very important step, and place it directly on top of the other pan with all the sides securely touching. You want to create a hot water bath that holds in steam.

After ten minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another twenty minutes or so. Your creme caramel should jiggle in the center and have a smooth shiny surface. That's it. Good luck!

By Sierra02 — On Sep 04, 2011

I had my first taste of creme caramel on a recent flight to Hawaii from Seattle, Washington. I think it was called "French baked custard", but whatever they called it, I fell in love with it after just the first bite.

I tried to make one after I got home but unfortunately it didn't turn out quite so well. It never set properly and was a little runny.

I'm usually very good at adjusting ingredients, temperature, cooking times, etc., to accommodate for the higher altitude I live in. Even though I don't understand why it didn't set, it still had that same great flavor.

I'll probably give it another try sometime, but in the meantime if anyone has any ideas as to what might have happened or any tips or techniques for cooking cream de caramel in high altitudes, that would be great.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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