Crema Catalana or 'Catalan cream' was originally consumed in Catalonia and it is without doubt this region's most typical dessert. With time it spread throughout Spain and is now a standard on most restaurant menus. However it is NOT exactly a Crème Brûlée for those who are unfamiliar with it.
It Catalunya it is tradition to prepare this dessert on March 19, when Saint Joseph is commemorated, which also happens to be the last day of Lent. Over this period, orthodox Christians would have been following a strict diet, so this tasty creamy dessert would have been a well earned reward for such sacrifice. Saint Joseph's day is also the Spanish equivalent of Father's day. So if your Dad has a sweet tooth you might want to make him some for next Father's Day.
However if we go back in time to its beginning, it can be traced back to Jewish food. The hebrews were very appreciative of the many and great combinations of milk and eggs. We have some references of Crema Catalana in medieval archives, as "illet cuita" (cooked milk). Apparently it didn't always have the caramel coating.
Today, Crema Catalana is without doubt one of the most famous examples of Catalan desserts and is recognised both nationally and internationally thanks to its simple preparation, originality and taste. Within Spain, the town of Sant Bartomeu del Grau celebrate a Crema Catalana cooking competition on the 4th of March, which forms part of the town's Craft and Commercial fair.
It's a simple recipe with common ingredients, however its difficulty lies in the sugar that coats it, which is heated on a steel plate or with a cooking blowtorch until it melts leaving a crunchy layer. Originally this was done with a heated rod or a branding iron, however it is now much more common for this process to be done using a gas burner.
The most similar dessert is Crème Brûlée, and they are often confused. The main difference is that crema catalana is made from milk and is then thickened with corn starch and egg, and the French dessert made with thick cream and eggs, and cooked in the oven in a water bath, and it has a texture more similar to a flan. If you want to watch your calorie intake, you can use skimmed cream, however it does not produce quite the same results as it does with whole milk.
The taste of crema catalana is so distinctive that it has been used as the basis of many other products in Spain. You can find crema catalana ice cream as well as a nougat like sweet which is called 'torró'. The flavour has also been copied in several liquors and liqueurs across the country.
If you ever happen to go to Barcelona be sure to try crema catalana, it will be served in most restaurants. But if you can't wait to get to Spain, you could always have a go at making this Spanish dessert at home by following this simple recipe:
1.Bring the milk to the boil with the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
2.Beat the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl.
3.Dissolve the cornflour in the milk and add the egg mixture.
4.Cook slowly over a low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat immediately.
5.Pour into bowls or individual earthenware dishes and refrigerate.
6.Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and place under a hot grill as close as possible until caramelised, unless you happen to have a blow torch or a branding iron lying around!
You can use wheat flour or any other kind of starch, and add it to the egg yolk mixture.
The crema catalana can be eaten without the sugar crust. If this is the case, place a piece of brown paper over the top to prevent a skin forming.
The crema can be eaten with biscuits or carquinyolis (a type of Catalan biscotti).
Eggs - 8 yolks
Milk - 1 l.
Cinnamon - 1 stick
Lemon - 1 piece of lemon peel
Sugar - 200 g.
Cornflour - 40 g.