Crema catalana is a dish that shares some common traits with a number of puddings from France and the UK and both those countries claim to be the inventors of this delicious dessert.
However, legend has it that the Catalans created it back in the mists of time, one day when a local bishop was due to visit a convent and, to welcome their hallowed guest, the nuns prepared a flan. With the bishop about to arrive, the sisters discovered the pudding was too liquidy. They had no time to rustle up an alternative so instead they covered the flan in sugar, burnt it and served it to their guest of honour. Unfortunately the bishop didn’t realise that the pudding was still hot and when he put the spoon in his mouth, he cried out “Crema!”, which means “It’s burning”. As a result, the dessert is sometimes called crema cremada and in French is crême brûlée (both meaning burnt cream).
The pudding is eaten throughout the year here, but arguably its biggest day, when it becomes one of the stars of the dinner-table, is on Sant Josep (March 19th), which is Father’s Day in Catalunya. As well as crema catalana or crema de Sant Josep as it is called when served that day, another popular Catalan dessert, flan, is also served to happy dads. While the reasons behind this gastronomic tradition are unclear, why argue with the possibility of enjoying two excellent Catalan puddings in one go?
- 1 litre of milk
- peel of one lemon
- cinnamon stick
- 6 egg yolks
- 200g sugar
- 40g cornflour
Put almost all the milk (set aside a glassful) into a pan along with the lemon peel and the cinnamon stick, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 15 minutes in order for the ingredients to fuse together. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and half the sugar until the mixture turns pale and starts to increase in volume. Dissolve the cornflour in the saved glass of milk, then add to the beaten egg yolks and mix; if necessary, add a bit of the hot milk to make sure everything mixes well.
Next slowly pour the rest of the hot milk over the egg mixture. Make sure you stir without stopping or changing the direction of the spoon. The next step is to strain the liquid through a sieve or some fine material. Once this is done, return to the heat and cook on a gentle flame until it reaches a rolling-boil and turns into a cream-like consistency. This should take around 15 minutes. Make sure that the mixture does not over-boil as it will spoil. Pour out into round dishes or ramekins and leave to cool.
When the crema has cooled down, shake an even layer of sugar over each of the dishes. If you have a pala de cremar (special round branding iron), hold this over a flame until almost red-hot. Place the iron on the sugar until it turns golden brown. If you don’t have a pala, you can either use a kitchen blowtorch or place in the oven to caramelise the sugar topping. Eat immediately.
Taken from 'La bona cuina catalan' by Ada Parellada (Ara Llibres)