Cooking traditional Spanish dishes at home: Crema Catalana

March 13, 2013
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My latest recipe attempt, crema catalana, is the Spanish version of crème brûlée. In fact, the French and Spanish dispute over which country invented it first. It is generally made for Saint Joseph’s Day (the Spanish equivalent to Father’s Day) on March 19, and is also known as crema de Sant Josep.

Making crema catalana seems really simple. This recipe only calls for six simple ingredients, all of which can be easily found: 1 cup of sugar, 4 egg yolks, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 1 stick of cinnamon, grated rind of a lemon, and 2 cups of milk. However, even though these are common ingredients, I did not have a cinnamon stick or a lemon. As a substitute, I used a dash of ground cinnamon and about ½ of a tablespoon of concentrated lime juice.

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

First, I separated the yolks from the egg whites and beat them and ¾ cup of sugar together in a pan until well-blended. Once the mixture became frothy, I added the cinnamon, lime juice, cornstarch, and milk. Without preheating the stove eye, I put the pan on the eye, turned the stove to medium, and kept whisking (and whisking, and whisking…) for about 10 minutes until the mixture heated. The recipe said to remove the crema from heat the second you felt resistance while whisking, ladle it into ramekins, and, after it cooled, refrigerate it for three hours.

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Here I made more alterations. My college kitchen does not host ramekins, so I substituted them with coffee mugs. Also, since it was already late evening by the time I put the mugs in the refrigerator, I just let them refrigerate overnight.

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

When I opened the fridge the next morning, I was excited to finish making these treats and finally taste them. Unfortunately, when I pulled the mugs out, I started to get a little nervous—they had fallen and lost about half their size, and they had returned to a liquid consistency. However, I still had hope, as there were some steps left in the recipe.

The final steps were to preheat the boiler to low, sprinkle the remaining sugar (¼ cup) over the mugs, and, once the oven was hot, load the mugs in there for about 10 minutes until the sugar caramelized. This is one of the main differences between crema catalana and crème brûlée—crème brûlée is caramelized by an open flame while crema catalana utilizes a broiler or specially made iron.

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Since I used the oven broiler, I could not see the cremas while they cooked—I was still hoping those 10 minutes in the oven would have a magical effect. I was incorrect. This is the first Spanish recipe I have blogged that I failed. Rather than the correct custard texture, my cremas had a texture similar to a mixture of pudding and coffee creamer. I researched possible reasons for my failure, and I came to the conclusion that using nonfat milk was my problem. The fat from whole milk would have whipped better and then held its shape, unlike what happened with the nonfat.

Even though the texture of my dessert bombed, it still tasted delicious. The sugar, cinnamon, and egg yolk made it very sweet and creamy, but the hint of citrus from the lime brightened it up. Rather than have the crema catalana as a dessert on its own, I paired it as a dipping sauce for different fruits (kiwi, grapes, blueberries, and strawberries), which gave the decadent dessert a sunnier feel.

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

Alpine Living | Anna Rae Gwarjanski

I am going to make this dessert again. The taste was there, even with my substitutions, so next time the only thing I will change will be to use whole milk rather than nonfat.

One Response to Cooking traditional Spanish dishes at home: Crema Catalana

  1. Kgwarjanski
    March 16, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Beautiful photos!