I'm an explorer. I like to discover new tastes and places, feel most accomplished when I get to the heart of something previously unfamiliar to me and get restless when too much time has passed doing the same thing over and over again. At the same time, though, I'm also a nostalgic, and I have a deep love for the things I know. That's why, when I first flipped through Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's Sweet, my eyes fell on their recipe for Ginger Crème Caramel.
I've been eating crème caramel for as long as I can remember. Like Crème au Chocolat, it's a favorite among my mother's repertoire of weeknight desserts. A recipe I'm sure she can whip up at any moment without fail, but one I hadn't actually tried myself. In fact, I rarely even saw my mother make it. Crème caramel was the type of treat you found hiding in the fridge when you got home from school, there to make you cheerful and long for the end of dinner, when you could dip your spoon into the set custard and see the caramel rise to the surface. If I remember anything from the process, it's seeing the caramel-coated ramekins lined up on the kitchen counter, waiting for the custard to be poured in, but it wasn't the type of dessert I helped make.
Perhaps this is why, for all these years, I haven't dared touch the recipe. Not because the process was unfamiliar to me or my mother has never given me clearcut instructions - she has a tendency to change things on a whim -, but because it's always felt so inherently hers. It's something she, as a mother, made for us, her children. Without those aspects of anticipation and motherly care, I don't believe it would ever be the same.
It was the memory of my mother's crème caramel, however, that inspired me to try Ottolenghi and Goh's recipe and to then make it my own. Using cardamom instead of ginger, and brown sugar instead of regular granulated sugar in the custard, it is light and smooth as well as warming and spiced. A recipe to suit my nostalgic but restless heart.
This post was created in partnership with MelkMoment. MelkMoment is a campaign organised by the Flemish Centre for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing (VLAM) or Fresh from Belgium, aimed at showing the versatility of milk and inspiring people with a range of "milk moments". All thoughts and opinions are my own.
• Most recipes add water to the caramel, as well as, in some occasions, glucose or corn syrup to prevent crystallization. As instructed by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, though, this recipe uses a dry caramel. It can seem scary at first and it does demand your undivided attention for a few minutes, but I do like the simplicity of this process.
• My mother makes her crème caramel in individual glass ramekins and we spoon them straight from the ramekin, which is perfect for a simple weeknight dessert, but for other occasions I like the drama and golden hues of a large flan turned over on a plate.
• The trickiest part of this recipe is getting the custard baked exactly right. It should be velvety and smooth, without any holes running through it. Depending on the type of baking tin you use (metal, ceramic or glass) this could take a little longer or shorter than instructed here, so pay close attention to the signs and don't be afraid to remove the flan from the oven when it's still very jiggly. This is how it should be! If you're in doubt, or simply want to know what to look for, I highly recommend you look at Zoë François's recent Instagram stories (look for Flan in her Highlights) before you start.
cardamom brown sugar crème caramel
adapted from yotam ottolenghi & helen goh's sweet
makes one 23 cm (9 inch) crème caramel
for the caramel
100 g caster sugar
for the custard
3 large eggs
100 g dark brown sugar
390 ml whole milk
60 ml heavy cream
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground vanilla
for the caramel
1. Preheat oven to 150°C. Place a 23 cm (9 inch) pie or flan tin in the oven while it preheats. This will make it easier to coat it in caramel later.
2. Place the sugar in an even layer in a large saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it's turned dark amber in color and is just starting to smoke. Do this slowly, with full attention and without stirring! Instead, once the sugar starts to melt and brown around the edges, tilt and swirl the pan to redistribute the sugar and continue to cook until fully caramelized.
3. Pour the caramel in the preheated pie tin and swirl the pan around to coat the bottom and halfway up the edges. Place the tin in a high-sided baking tray and set aside while you make the custard.
for the custard
1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until smooth. Add milk, cream and spices and whisk until fully combined, but not too frothy.
2. Pour custard mixture into the caramel-coated pie tin and place the baking tray (with the pie tin inside) in the oven. Create a water bath by pouring some recently boiled water into the baking tray so that it reaches about halfway up the sides of the pie tin.
3. Bake the crème caramel in the water bath for 25 to 35 minutes, until set and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Depending on the size and material of your tin (see notes), cooking times may vary, so start checking at 20 minutes. As soon as the crème caramel starts to jiggle like jelly instead of like water, remove baking tray and pie tin from the oven.
4. Let the crème caramel cool to room temperature in the water bath, then transfer the pie tin to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, to let the custard set and the caramel liquify.
5. When ready to serve, carefully run a small (warm) knife around the edge of the pie tin to release the crème caramel. Place a large, rimmed plate over the pie tin and quickly flip the whole thing over. Lift up the tin (it should release easily) to reveal the set crème caramel.