Crème caramel, also popularly referred to as flan in some parts of the world or as caramel custard in most parts, is a French dessert that is made of custard with a topping of soft caramel. This is a variation of the plain custard and has different versions across the world, whether it is American, Latin American, Japanese, Philippine, Vietnamese or Cuban.
Crème caramel used to be one of main attractions in most European restaurants, as stated by Alan Davidson, the food historian. Among all the desserts, this custard was the easiest to make and could also be prepared beforehand; hence it was part of almost all the restaurant menus.
Crème caramel is cooked in a water bath. Sugar syrup is cooked with a little lemon juice, till it reaches the caramel stage. This caramelized sugar syrup is poured into the molds and kept aside to harden. Meanwhile, custard is prepared by heating milk; meanwhile, eggs are beaten along with sugar in a separate bowl. The hot milk is poured into bowl with the egg mixture and whisked till they mix well. Cooled milk is passed through a colander to strain. The milk mixture is then baked in a water bath till the middle is wriggly and it is refrigerated. Before serving, the custard is turned upside down and served with a garnish of choice.
- Latin America – In this part of the world, Crème caramel is eaten with dulce de leche, especially in Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay. However, in Brazil and Venezuela, the custard is prepared with condensed milk, milk, eggs and sugar with a caramelized top. In Chile, this custard is served with dulce de membrillo, a spread of quince gelatin.
- Cuba – Flan de Cuba or Cuban Flan is popular in most Spanish speaking regions. This is made with egg whites and flavored with cinnamon stick. “Copa Lolita” is another local version of caramel custard. This is a caramel flan that is generally served with vanilla ice cream. Rum raisin and coconut topped custards too are popular in this region.
- Philippine – Philippine Leche flan is the local version of the Spanish flan. It is heavier than the Spanish version, as it is made with condensed milk and more egg yolks. This custard is steamed on open flame and is at times baked.
- Vietnam – Crème caramel was first introduced into Vietnam by the French and is popular all over the country. It is known as “banh caramel, kem caramel or caramen, banh flan or kem flan in various parts of the country. A local variation of this dish is a black coffee flavored base that gives the custard a different flavor.
- Japan – Most stores in Japan sell Crème caramel under the name “purin”, which means custard pudding.
- Spain – Crème catalana is the Spanish version of Crème brulee. This custard is prepared by caramelizing sugar under an iron broiler and not on direct flame. It is flavored with orange or lemon zest and cinnamon.
- France – The French version of this dessert is called Crème brulee. The custard base is rich and flavored with vanilla. Orange or lemon zest, rosemary, chocolate, liqueurs, coffee or fruit flavorings are also added, as desired. This custard is topped with a hard layer of caramel.
- Britain – ‘Trinity Cream’ is the British name for Crème brulee. It is also known as ‘burnt cream’.
Variations of Crème Caramel Recipe
Crème caramel is a favorite with most people and that is the reason, this dessert has evolved to suit various palettes. Detailed here are a couple of such variations –
Eggless Crème Caramel -
Sugar is caramelized and poured into molds and allowed to harden. Meanwhile, custard is prepared with either readily available custard or prepared at home in the same manner as detailed above, but without eggs. In this case, agar-agar is mixed with a little cream and brought to boil. Once the flakes dissolve completely, it is added to the already prepared custard (without eggs) and mixed well. The hot custard is then poured into the molds, covered and refrigerated. This eggless Crème caramel is served topped with praline.
Crème Caramel with Pumpkin –
This variation is prepared with coconut milk instead of regular whole milk. Coconut milk and cream are heated in a saucepan along with pumpkin. Care needs to be taken while heating the milk, ensuring the contents do not stick to the bottom. Meanwhile, eggs, sugar and a little salt are whisked together. The milk mixture is slowly whisked into the egg mixture and strained through a sieve. Vanilla essence is stirred into the milk-egg mixture and poured into custard cups. It is then baked in a water bath. When done, the Crème caramel cups are cooled and refrigerated for a couple of hours and served upside down.