Crème Caramel Recipe

Caramel custard was a mainstay of my mother’s dessert repertoire when I was growing up. We referred to it by its common French name crème renversée — flipped custard — because of the way you serve it, upside down: this way the layer of caramel that was spread across the bottom of the pan finds itself on top, and the delicious sauce can run down the sides and pool onto the serving plate.

The layer of caramel that was spread across the bottom of the pan finds itself on top, and the delicious sauce can run down the sides and pool onto the serving plate.

I am so partial to my mother’s recipe that I never ever order crème caramel when dining out, because I know it will fall short. Her version isn’t overly sweet, and it has the simple flavors of childhood — milk, eggs, vanilla. The silken, slippery consistency feels fresh and clean, though my favorite part is actually the lightly nubby “skin” that develops at the surface of the custard, where it was exposed to the oven’s heat.

Since the ingredients list is so straightforward, use the best ones you can: now would be a fine time to use your neighbor’s backyard eggs, that farm-fresh milk you get from the greenmarket, and the fat, waxy vanilla bean you’ve been saving for a special occasion.

My mother makes crème caramel in a single pan — a repurposed charlotte mold if you must know — for the whole family to share, but I usually cook it in ramekins instead: individual containers look fancier when we have guests, and if it’s just us, they make it easier to handle servings and leftovers.

Crème Caramel

Crème Caramel Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 6 hours

Makes 6 servings.

Crème Caramel Recipe

Ingredients

    For the caramel:
  • 100 grams (1/2 cup) white sugar (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • For the custard:
  • 650 ml (2 3/4 cups) milk (I use fresh lait demi-écrémé -- 2% milk -- but you can also use whole milk or non-dairy milk; I wouldn't recommend skim)
  • 50 grams (1/4 cup) unrefined blond cane sugar (you can use the unrefined sugar of your choice, just keep in mind that a darker sugar will make the custard a bit brown)
  • 1 fresh vanilla bean, split open and beans scraped, or 1 tablespoon homemade vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon store-bought natural vanilla extract
  • 4 large organic eggs

Instructions

  1. Have ready 6 ovenproof ramekins or cups, each about 160 ml (2/3 cup) in capacity.
  2. First, make the caramel. Combine the 100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar and the water in a large saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and let the sugar melt without stirring, simply swirling the pan around from time to time so it caramelizes evenly.
  3. As it boils, the caramel will turn golden, then golden brown, and when it darkens to a deep amber, remove from the heat and immediately pour into the prepared ramekins, swirling around to coat the bottoms evenly.
  4. Place the ramekins on a deep rimmed baking sheet, or a baking dish large enough to accommodate them comfortably.
  5. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and bring water to a boil in the kettle.
  6. Make the custard. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla, and bring to just under a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Let cool slightly.
  7. In a medium mixing bowl with a pouring spout, beat the eggs lightly. Set a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl, and pour in a quarter of the milk, then whisk to combine. Repeat with the remaining milk in three additions.
  8. Pour the custard into the prepared ramekins.
  9. Pour very hot water from the kettle into the rimmed baking sheet and around the ramekins to about half their height -- this will help conduct the heat evenly.
  10. Insert into the oven, lower the heat to 120°C (250°F) and cook for 30 minutes, until the custards are set but still jiggly, and the blade of a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  11. Turn off the oven and leave the ramekins in for another 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight before serving.
  12. To serve, run a knife carefully around the custard to loosen, place a small serving plate over the ramekin, and flip to unmold, shaking a bit as needed.

Notes

I use unrefined cane sugar in practically all my recipes, but it doesn't caramelize well due to the impurities, so I revert to regular white sugar when making caramel.

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Crème Caramel

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  • dianegrohl

    This is a very very popular dessert here in Brazil called “pudim”. The recipe is quite similar except that instead of sugar it is used one can of condensed milk and the same quantity of whole milk. And just 3 eggs. The vanilla extract is optional. And then there is the caramel on the bottom and it can be either cooked straight in the oven or in bain marie for a more creamy result :)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      That sounds lovely! It’s true that crème caramel has equivalents in other cultures. I believe Mexico has the flan, which is also similar.

      • NotJoking

        Yes, Spain and Mexico call it the flan, and I can’t find any differences really. But the English flan is something completely different that I can never get my head around. I’ve had creme caramel in Arabic countries and it’s very popular there, too.

        • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

          From what I understand, Mexican flan is often flavored lightly with orange, which I don’t think is typically the case with crème caramel.

          The French flan is more of a custard tart, much denser, baked on a crust. Some people are absolute fans; I can eat it out of curiosity when I’m told a baker makes a particularly good one, but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. :)

  • http://www.bigflavorstinykitchen.com/ BigFlavorsFromATinyKitchen

    This is gorgeous! I can practically taste that caramel!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Thanks, let me know if you get a chance to try it!

  • Gingerandbread

    This is the second time I’ve seen a post about creme caramel – your pictures look mouthwateringly beautiful! Perhaps it is a sign … ;-)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Most definitely! :)

  • Jody Lee

    So you strain the milk/sugar part, but not once the eggs are combined? Curious because I have a pudding recipe and I strain after eggs and find bits of white in the strainer.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      You know, I’ve seen recipes that strain after combining with the eggs, as you suggest, but what bothers me are the little flecks of scorched milk. I’ve never had identifiable bits of egg whites in the finished product (it doesn’t rule out their presence, but it’s never been a problem).

      I admit it’s also for convenience’s sake, as straining after combining with the eggs would require an additional bowl.

  • Annabel Smyth

    I haven’t made crème caramel for years! Maybe I should try again – although in fact I prefer crème brulée, which I can’t make at home as I don’t have the requisite blowtorch, and doing it under the grill is never quite the same. I have tried making it with caramel and pouring it over the custard, but it’s Not the Same.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      I myself own a blowtorch that I purchased at a hardware store just for this purpose, and haven’t used in years because I got crème-brûléed out when they were served *everywhere* a few years ago. But it is indeed very very good, and you’re making me want to make a batch soon!

      • Annabel Smyth

        I hope to be eating some on Monday evening in Calais!

  • http://www.eatlivetravelwrite.com/ Mardi Michels

    I haven’t made this for years either although it was a staple around my mum and dad’s fancy dinner party tables in the 70s and 80s! Thanks for the reminder of one of my fave dishes (that I always order if I see it on the menu in a resto!)

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Ha! That is probably the rough period when my mother started making them too. And what do you think about restaurant crème caramel? Does it usually deliver or disappoint?

  • Bakeawaywithme.com

    One of my favorite desserts! Yours looks fabulously delicious!

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Thank you, I hope you get a chance to give it a try soon!

  • Meghan Mathieson

    The recipe looks mouthwatering. Do you think I could use mini springform pans instead of ramkins (as I don’t own ramkins)? Perhaps if the bottoms of the springforms were wrapped in tinfoil to prevent water ingress during baking?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      I’d be nervous about the mini springform pans for the very reason you suggest: the caramel sauce is bound to leak. If you don’t have ramekins, I’d be more comfortable with you using muffin tins (do you have those?) or an 8-inch (20-cm) cake pan.

      • Meghan Mathieson

        Muffin tins sound like a good compromise. I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion!

        • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

          Let me know how that goes!

          • Meghan Mathieson

            I ended up making the creme caramel at my mother’s house, as she owns a set of adorable blue ramkins – so I haven’t tried the muffin tin option yet. I did scale the recipe up to make 8 portions. The dessert turned out really well – smooth and creamy.

          • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

            Thanks for letting me know, Meghan, I’m very pleased you enjoyed them!

  • Rifki Ali

    yessssh, that line about using the best products do need to be said. As simple as this dessert is, the smallest difference of quality can divide a nice portion with a remarkable one.

    I read somewhere a long time ago, that those small “bubbles” in your creme caramel means your oven is a tad bit too hot: each oven, even same models from same company, can have quirks of each own (a popular knowledge, i know), and creme caramel, being as delicate and simple as it is, highly susceptible to these quirks in temperatures (even if only one or two degrees).

    also you can let the custard rest for a bout ten minutes before pouring them to the moulds and tap it lightly after pouring to release air.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Tanks for the bubble tip! I also assume not incorporating too much air as you stir in the various ingredients would help, though I myself kind of like the bubbles. :)

  • http://www.healthyeatingforordinarypeople.com/ Rivki Locker

    What a lovely recipe – simple ingredients, with an elegant result. Just beautiful.

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      Thank you Rivki, I hope you get to try it sometime!

  • Emily Lo Gibson

    This looks delicious and it’s one of my favorites! Sadly, I’ve recently developed a casein allergy and can’t have dairy. Have you ever come across dairy-free versions of this classic?

    • http://chocolateandzucchini.com/ Clotilde Dusoulier

      You can definitely try it with the non-dairy milk of your choice. Almond milk should be lovely!

      • Emily Lo Gibson

        Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to try that out!

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