Crema Catalana is the Spanish version of creme brulee. On the other hand, some would say the opposite - that the French learned this recipe from their close neighbors in Catalunya. Either way, this creamy dessert with a caramelized sugar topping is fun to make and delightful to eat.
The authentic way to create this classic dessert requires a red-hot heating iron. However, before we get to the fun part, first you need to make a simple custard flavored with vanilla and lemon, using traditional terra cotta cazuela dishes (see recipe below).
This gift packed kit includes six terra cotta cazuelas from Catalunya and a burner (called a salamander) especially made to fit them. The box also includes instructions and a recipe.
Note: The heating iron comes with a thin, non-toxic protective coating to prevent it from rusting. Prior to first use, you will need to heat the round end of the iron and burn off the coating in a well-ventilated area.
After every use, the iron needs to be lightly oiled, like a cast iron skillet, before storing.
The recipe for Crema Catalana is as follows:
6 egg yolks
4 1/4 cups of milk
3/4 cup of sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean
In a pot, mix the milk with the vanilla bean, lemon zest and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and strain the mixture, setting aside the vanilla bean and lemon zest. Add the egg yolks to the hot milk mixture and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir and put back on the heat once again and bring to a boil, removing immediately just when boiling begins again. Pour the cream into the ceramic cazuelas, allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Heat the included iron (called a salamander in Spanish!) on a stove burner until the disk is red hot. It makes a big difference when applying the heat to the sugar.
Sprinkle each Crema Catalana with sugar — raw sugar is particularly good - and hold the iron very close to the surface, but not touching. This will caramelize the sugar, thereby creating a crunchy sweet crust on top.
How caramelized you want the sugar to be is a matter of personal taste. Some people like the sugar toasted dark brown, others a lighter tan color.
The process may create some smoke, so do this in a well ventilated area! Now they are ready to serve.