My first taste of creme caramel was, funnily enough, in Japan. It was in this tiny glass jar, with a red metal lid. The bottom layer was a deep dark caramel while a pale yellow custard filled up the rest of the jar. I dug in, as carefully as I could with the most petite spoon ever. I scooped up my first flawlessly smooth bite. It gave the tiniest little wobble. I swallowed, and the custard glided down my throat with a faint vanilla fragrance lingering in my mouth. I had to have more. But this time with some of that caramel below. It was heart-wrenching, to have to brutally cut through this jar of perfection to reach the bottom, but I did. And the moment I retrieved my spoon, the dark amber liquid flowed up through the fine cracks, tainting the eggy yellow pudding with streaks of brown.
In a desperate attempt to heal the broken picture, I hurriedly scooped a bigger bite of caramel and pudding. It was sheer bliss. Who knew pudding could be so satisfying? The caramel was sweet, but bittersweet. Instead of overwhelming the delicate pudding, it enhanced the vanilla flavour even more.
Nowadays, we can find so many different flavours of creme caramel. Strawberry, chocolate, green tea, sesame... Well, it was mostly invented by the Japanese, but I'm sure we've heard of coffee and pumpkin too. But I think the original is still the best.
The water bath is crucial. Only half of my pudding was protected by the water bath so the unprotected half had holes that marred the surface, and the texture was not as silky too. I think 180C is too high a temperature too, 150C would be better.
recipe adapted from America's Test Kitchen
makes 8 servings
To make the caramel:1 cup Sugar1/2 cup Water
Combine the sugar and water in a pot and cook until a candy thermometer reaches 350 degrees. Pour the caramel into the ramekins and allow it to set until hardened.
To make the custard:3 cups Half and Half *I used whole milk because I prefer a lighter consistency3 Eggs2 Egg Yolks2/3 cup Sugar1 1/2 tsp vanilla dash Salt
Heat the half and half until it reaches a simmer. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and salt in a bowl. When the half and half is steaming, slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.
Strain the custard into a large measuring cup or pitcher. Pour into ramekins. Pour boiling water 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekin. Cover with foil. Bake in 350 (I would go for 300 and extend the baking time if necessary) degree oven for 35-40 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a knife in the center. Knife should come out clean when removed. Remove the custards from the hot water bath and place on a rack. Allow the custards to cool for 1-1/2 hours before refrigerating. To remove, run a knife around the sides of the ramekin. Place a plate on top and invert the plate. Lift the ramekin to remove the custard and caramel.