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Simple Creme Caramel

What to do when you just got back from vacation and the only things in the fridge are eggs and milk, and sugar in the pantry? This is what happened to us last week when we got home and my mother in law had nicely provided us with some essentials: eggs, milk and bread. We feasted on an omelette and grilled bread the next morning and after filling up on groceries, my brain was still foggy and jetlagged so I settled for a very simple, but yet very comforting creme caramel for dessert.

I can’t tell you where the recipe came from as it is the one I used everyday at the restaurant for years and found it in the giant recipe box the various chefs on duty had created decades ago. What I like about it is the way it lends itself to many variations. Extracts, liquors, syrups, fruit purees, nuts and such can be added to the custard base and one can really let his/her imagination run wild.

Creme Caramel, source unknown:
Serves 4

For the custard base:
4 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar

For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
1 Tb lemon juice

Prepare the base a couple of hours ahead:
Heat the milk until very hot. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and well blended. Slowly pour the milk over the eggs/sugar mixture and whisk until well incorporated.
Let cool to room temperature and pass through a sieve or colander.

Prepare the caramel:
In a heavy saucepan, melt the sugar with the lemon juice until you reach a nice deep golden color. Be careful as the caramel will continue to darken once removed from the heat and you ccan end up with a very bitter and very dark caramel.
Carefully divide it among 4 ramequins. Let the caramel cool and harden for a few minutes.

In the meantime, prepare your water bath: in a deep baking pan, pour some hot water to about an inch deep and set your oven to 350 degrees.
Pour the egg custard mixture on top of the caramel and set your ramequins into the baking pan. Add more water if necessary, the water bath should come to about half way up the sides of the dishes.
Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the middle still giggles a bit when shaken as the mixture will ontinue to cook and set when refrigerate.
Let the water bath cool off for a few minutes and remove the ramequins. Let them cool off to room temperature. Refrigerate a couple of hours before serving.

To serve, run a knife along the side of the ramequins, invert them on the plates and giggles them a bit to help the custard fall down.
Decorate to your own taste and enjoy!

This is one of my to go desserts, complementing a heavy dinner but a light note, crisp in flavor yet so simple. Just like with creme brulee or cheesecakes, the flavors can be changed at will. I like infusing the milk with bergamot or Earl Grey tea leaves, lavender buds, citrus and fruit peels during the summer. Pumpkin is great added to the base during fall, and I sometimes replace the whole milk with soy or coconut milks for a different flavor during the winter.

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Anonymous January 18, 2007 um 5:04 am

This is what I’ve been looking for and didn’t know it! This creme caramel is just gorgeous and such a nice simple recipe to boot, I’ve been longing for something sweet but not heavy and cloying this is perfect, thank you for posting it.

Meeta K. Wolff January 18, 2007 um 7:50 am

I love creme caramel. Helene this is a gorgeous looking recipe and reminds me that desserts can be so simple!

Patricia Scarpin January 18, 2007 um 11:49 am

Hi, Helene! It’s so good to see recipes from you again, they’re always so great!

Since I started visiting foodblogs and buying foreign cookbooks I’ve learned how big creme caramel is.
I want to try it sometime and I think I’ll use your recipe! 😀

Here in Brazil there’s a dessert that is similar and very, very popular, too: it’s made with eggs, milk and condensed milk, cooked in the oven in a water bath as well, with a caramel sauce, too.
I should post it sometime!

MyKitchenInHalfCups January 18, 2007 um 1:25 pm

I think this looks simple sitting on my plate. It also looks very wonderful to eat.
But until I did it, I was afraid of the carmel step and even the water bath thing. Once I did it, yes it was simple.
I like the source unknown – would it be wrong to thing it might have had input from many of the chefs?
It’s always a comfort dessert.

Lis January 18, 2007 um 3:53 pm

That looks so creamy and luscious! Of course it’d be you that would create something so wonderful out of just a couple lonely ingredients 😀 Great job!

Anonymous January 18, 2007 um 5:15 pm

"What to do when you just got back from vacation and the only things in the fridge are eggs and milk, and sugar in the pantry?"

Et bien je dirais cette superbe recette …
Si j’avais eu de la gélatine et un peu de crème j’aurais fait (en enlevant les oeufs) de la Panacotta!
C’est un régal italien que je tiens de ma grand mère… yummy !


Anonymous January 18, 2007 um 6:24 pm

I can’t believe this is so simple! Lovely.

Anonymous January 18, 2007 um 7:23 pm

Ah so funny Helen. I made some today as I have a dinner to host tomorrow 😉 Mind you, it was for my lunch today, as I could not wait to try!
Welcome back. It looks like your trip to France was great. I saw some nice caneles there, made some yesterday 😉

Brilynn January 20, 2007 um 2:57 pm

Helen, I don’t think I can believe you that this dish is so easy to make… I mean, you’re the same person who can pop out macarons in her sleep!

Anonymous January 21, 2007 um 4:18 am

Simply stunning! I’ve always wanted to try making a creme caramel, and after seeing this beautiful photo the urge is even stronger! Ahh, I wish my fuzzy-brain moments were as inspired as yours 😉

نگین January 22, 2007 um 10:30 am

Thank you for the grate weblog but I have question
you said cup…cup how many cc’s can be?
and TB you mean?

Anonymous July 23, 2007 um 1:50 am

This is the recipe I’ve been looking for. Can’t wait to try it out this week – thanks so much!

Anonymous May 29, 2008 um 7:35 am

Thank you for this wonderful yet so simple recipe. I tried it right after reading it and the result is wonderful. But I had too much caramel in the ramekin and it was still stuck to the base after the base came out.

thanks again

Anonymous January 22, 2009 um 11:52 am

My mom makes a great one with condensed milk, so I tried this out with a bit of fear because I was out of condensed milk! It turned out to be just as good and came of the ramekins perfectly! So yum! Thank you! Love your blog!

sandrine australia September 5, 2009 um 3:19 am

Hi, I have followed your receipe, I reduced sugar a bit, came out of the ramequin in a clic, I was so proud of me as I served it to my best friends, perfect, thanks again.

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