Caramel Custard

If I invite someone for a meal, I often want to make something extremely complicated and beautiful and delicious (Like, I want to make  the V8 cake from MasterChef AU... but do I ever plan to make dessert well in advance? I'll let you guess.) And if I don't get around to making these complicated creations, I am left wondering as to what is that one dessert that'll come together easily and still be something  beautiful and delicious and something that only looks complicated. So this is what fits into my definition of all that. Caramel Custard. Or Creme Caramel. Or as it's more commonly known - Flan.

steamed not baked

Caramel Custard is one of those lesser known desserts - it's not something you find easily on a restaurant menu. They'll probably have stuff like 'orange scented creme brulee' or 'spanish style creme catalana' or some such thing, but not many include this incredibly humble, age old dessert. Which is a shame really. It used to be favourite in European restaurants somewhere in the 20th century, but I hardly see it on restaurant menus in India. The taste is subtle, the custard is smooth (although mine wasn't, well...smooth - but I'll come to that later) and the caramel just sinks into the creamy white pudding making it the best topping a pudding can have.  It has no adornments on top - and what you see below is leftover caramel that I was trying to make into some kind of a candy creation - it didn't work, but tasted good - I know, I ate all of it.

Apparently Caramel Custard was a Raj favourite in India. It's different from a crème brûlée because here the caramel cooks with the custard and is soft. It's also known as Flan in Spanish, Creme Caramel in French and also Crema Caramella in Italian

creme caramel

Creme Caramel is essentially a baked custard. But baking this custard is not as simple - especially when you don't have a deep bottom baking tray. This custard is baked in a bain-marie - ie the tin is placed in a tray filled with water and the whole thing is then placed in the oven.   But that scares me - I don't have a deep enough tray and what if the water spills all over the heating element? Does it scare you? This recipe here doesn't even need an oven - a pressure cooker is what works. I found this recipe in the book that was a gift to my mom and that's really a textbook prescribed for hotel management students.  Does it make any difference in taste? No, none that I can perceive. This tastes good hot - so you can eat it within 30 minutes of cooking it, or if the weather is hot, chill it in the fridge overnight (you require patience) or at least a couple of hours before serving. I like to unmould it when the custard is hot - because the caramel slides of a lot easier.

Caramel Custard:
Adapted from MODERN COOKERY  VOL 1 by Thangam E Philip

You need

600 ml (approximately 3 full teacups) whole milk
1 tbsp fresh cream (optional - the original recipe doesn't call for it)
4 eggs
60 gms (4 heaped tbsp) Tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 individual pudding moulds or a single 1ltr pudding mould

For the caramel:
30 gms (2 heaped tbsp) Granular sugar
1 1/2 tsp water

To make:

First make the caramel: In a non stick saucepan dissolve the sugar and the water on a medium flame. Swirl the pan in between (don't stir). Bring this to the boil and let it turn into a whiskey colour/ or till it turns golden brown. Pour this into your moulds - be careful as the pan and then the moulds get very hot.

In another saucepan, heat the milk, cream and vanilla together till it just starts to boil - turn off the heat and set this aside. I used whole milk and added a small amount of cream to boost the richness of the custard, but you can use any milk you have at home. Beat the eggs with the sugar for about 2 minutes with a fork or a whisk. Slowly pour the hot milk over this and keep whisking as you add the milk. Strain this into your moulds (its better to strain so you remove any lumps or bubbles)

Cover the moulds with a greased paper and steam gently for about 30 minutes in a pressure cooker - however it may take longer in a steamer. Test it after 30 minutes - if its reasonably set in the middle and no longer liquid, then it's done. Steam it on a low flame - this is to reduce the air bubbles in the pudding - mine still had some - but then that's the whole point - it's homemade and these little things shouldn't bother.

homemade creme caramel
Ready Custard

Unmould the custard - and serve either hot or cold.


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