I love crème caramel for its simple perfection. Its just-held-together texture and its pretty shine when turned out of the mold. I also love that Mimi included a recipe for it in her beautiful new book, French Country Cooking and that that recipe is one her grandmother used to make. I can imagine her making it in a small kitchen in a picturesque village in the south of France. Perfect.
Reprinted from FRENCH COUNTRY COOKING Meals and Moments from A Village In The Vineyards by Mimi Thorisson. Clarkson Potter Publishers, NYC, 2016. [my optional notes in square brackets]
Crème brûlée is just as iconic and equally famous in world of French sweets but there is something distinctly old-fashioned about crème caramel. I will always associate this dessert with my sweet little grandmother Sérphine, who made it every Sunday in the South of France. This is her recipe, which I've made again and again until I figured out any pitfalls and perfected it. Now I can make Crème Caramel that does justice to my grandmother, and so can you.
FOR THE CARAMEL
1 cup / 200 g sugar
FOR THE CUSTARD
1 cup / 240 ml heavy cream [I substitute 10% cream]
1 cup / 240 ml whole milk [I substitute 10% cream]
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
1 teaspoon lemon zest [optional]
pinch of fine sea salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup / 50 g castor sugar
1. Have ready an 8-inch / 20 cm fluted brioche mold or other decorative ovenproof mold. [I've made with both 1 tin or 8 individual tins, I especially like using straight sided loaf tins, pictured in 1st 2 photos.]
2. MAKE THE CARAMEL. In a medium saucepan, melt the sugar over medium heat without stirring. Once the sugar has dissolved, boil until the color turns uniformly dark amber. Remove immediately from the heat and carefully pour it into the mold. Swirl the mold in a circular motion so the caramel coats the entire bottom. Once the caramel is cool, butter the sides of the pan (this will facilitate the unmolding later). [If you're new to making caramel for crème caramel, here's a great video from MSL with good tips. And some more from BA here.]
3. Preheat the oven to 300˚F / 150˚C. Bring a kettle of water to the boil.
4. MAKE THE CUSTARD. In a large saucepan, combine the cream, milk, [or 10% cream] vanilla bean and seeds, lemon zest, and salt over medium hear until hot but not boiling.
5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. When the milk is hot but not boiling, discard the vanilla pod and slowly whisk the liquid into the egg mixture. [Strain mixture through a fine sieve]. Gently pour mixture into the mold. [I do this once the mold is in the baking dish.]
6. Set the mold in a roasting pan or deep baking dish. [Set the roasting pan on the middle rack in your prepared oven.] Gently pour boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the mold. Bake until the custard is set in the centre, about 50 minutes. Remove from the water bath and let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, until cooled.
7. To serve, gently loosen the sides of the custard with a butter knife. Invert a rimmed serving dish (make sure it is deep enough to hold the caramel sauce) on top and gently turn everything upside down. Remove the mold. Serve each portion with a few spoons of caramel sauce.