If you ask anyone who went to elementary school in France during the 90s (like myself) what a “crème caramel” makes them think of, 99% of the time they will respond, a “Flanby”.
Flanby is a very popular brand of Crème caramel sold in French supermarkets. They come in multipacks of little fluted plastic pots, and are a dessert staple in French “cantines” (school canteens).
As a kid, I remember being served « flanby » pots for dessert at school, at least twice a week. And all the kids loved it! We loved it for its delicious taste, but also for the fun we had as we got prepared to enjoy it – because there is a whole process to it, which for kids is more like a fun game. You have to open the little plastic container, flip it upside down on a plate (you have to be fast not to spill caramel sauce everywhere), then pop a little plastic lever from the bottom of the container to create an air hole which releases the crème. This makes a intensely satisfying slurping sound, as the syrupy caramel sauce pours all around – which for kids, is such a fun and magical sight!
For this reason, although a “Crème Caramel” can sound like a fancy French dessert, I feel it actually brings most French adults back to their childhood. And making a crème caramel at home is definitly a thing that brings me comfort and a head filled with memories.
Although it’s called a “crème”, this classic French dessert is closer to a flan in texture, as it is firm enough to be self-standing once unmolded. And because it uses milk, not cream, the taste is also much lighter than its counterpart, the “crème brulee”. It leaves you with a more refreshing finish, and it is far less sweet (which might make you want to eat more of it, though…).
A Crème Caramel should have the right amount of caramel, but not too much (it shouldn’t be drowning in it, nor too sweet). It should also have just the right amount of bounce, but not too much (it has to remain delicate).
My recipe for a Crème Caramel might not give you the prettiest looking one (in fact, you can see how the top is pretty bumpy here), but the taste and the texture are simply perfect.
When I had my first spoonful of this velvety caramel delicacy, I was transported back to being a kid at my school canteen, in France. Which to me, is the best sign that a recipe is on point!
- For this recipe you can use any of the classic crème caramel moulds (round, fluted or with a center in the middle). If you don’t have any of these, a 9 inch loaf pan works well too.
- One issue that I have when making crème caramel is that often, some of the caramel becomes too hard and gets stuck at the bottom of the pan after releasing the custard. So after I flip the crème onto a plate, I return the mould to a bain-marie (hot water bath), which re-softens the caramel, making it easy to pour it back onto the crème.
If you try this Classic Crème caramel, let me know! Leave a comment or share a photo using #pardonyourfrench on Instagram.
Classic Crème CaramelPrint This
For the caramel
3/4 cup (150g) sugar
1/4 cup (45ml) water
a few drops of lemon juice
For the custard
8 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
3 1/4 cups (800ml) whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Lightly butter your mold or pan. Get a larger baking dish ready, for making a bain-marie to bake the creme in. Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF (150ºC).
To make the Caramel – in a sauce pan, bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil. Do not stir. Continue to boil until the caramel turns light amber in color. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the mould, ensuring the entire bottom is well coated.
To make the Creme – Heat the milk in a sauce pan (stop just before it starts boiling) and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them in (or the vanilla extract). While constantly whisking, gradually and slowly add the warm milk to the eggs.
When well-blended, pour the crème into the mold. Place the mold in the larger baking dish, and pour the hot water into the larger outer dish, until the water reaches halfway up the mould.
Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The center should be barely set.
Remove the crème from the oven and let sit 30 extra minutes within its water bath. Transfer to a cooling rack, and let cool to room temperature completely before you transfer to the fridge. Chill at least 5 hours, preferably overnight.
To serve: Run a knife around the outside of the well-chilled custard, to help it release from the pan. Place a large serving platter upside down over the custard, then turn the platter and loaf pan of custard over simultaneously. Lift the pan from the custard and serve.
Storage: The caramel flan can be made up to four days ahead and refrigerated.
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.