Crema Catalana, also known as burnt cream, is a traditional Spanish dessert characterized by its citrus and cinnamon aroma and crunchy caramelized crust.
This dessert originated in Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain, during the Middle Ages.
I love the Spanish food and what my country land offers to our gastronomy. If you have ever been to Spain, you know it has different climates and landscapes from north to south and from east to west. Therefore, we have a rich gastronomic culture since every region provides its own ingredients and culinary specialties.
Crema Catalana vs. Crème Brûlée
Although crema catalana and crème brûlée belong to the same family of custards and both are called “burnt creams” ( they are topped with burnt sugar), there are certain differences between them.
Crema catalana is a Spanish dessert made with cornstarch and cooked on the stove, while crême brûlée is a French dessert baked in the oven and no cornstarch is needed. Another difference is that lemon and cinnamon are used to flavor the crema catalana, while vanilla is used to flavor the creme brûlée.
History of Crema Catalana
Crema Catalana is believed to be one of the oldest recorded desserts in Europe. The first written reference to Crema Catalana appears in a medieval cookbook called Llibre de Sent Soví, which was written in the 14th century. This first known recipe calls for milk, sugar, egg yolks, and cornstarch, which are all ingredients that are still used today.
It was also mentioned in Llibre del Coch, a 16th-century medieval recipe book. Crema Catalana has since become an iconic Spanish dessert often served during special occasions, such as St. Joseph’s Day, aka Father’s Day in Spain, which is celebrated on March 19th.
Is This Dessert Gluten Free ?
Yes! Catalan cream is made with cornstarch, the flour is corn-based, not wheat-based; therefore, it is gluten-free. This dessert is suitable for celiacs.
Crema catalana is usually served in the typical clay dishes. It is a porpular traditional Spanish dessert, like arroz con leche or Spanish rice pudding, and it is part of our rich gastronomic heritage.
If you have never made this homemade dessert, and you are wondering how to make crema catalana, I assure you that it is very easy to make it.
How To Make Crema Catalana
1. In a saucepan, pour a liter of milk and add in a cinnamon stick and a lemon peel. It is important that the lemon peel has no white as it bitters.
2. Put it over high heat and, when it starts to boil, lower the heat and let it cook for 5 more minutes. Set aside with the saucepan covered, so that the milk continues to take on the flavor.
3. Separate 8 egg yolks from 8 egg whites. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and ¾ cups of granulated sugar with a hand held mixer at medium speed until foamy and pale yellow.
4. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into the egg yolk mixture and beat with the hand mixer until well integrated.
5. Pour the milk into the mixture through a sieve, removing the cinnamon stick and the lemon peel. Whisk with the hand held for one second .
6. Once you have all the mixture integrated, put it back on the stove over a medium heat. Stir with a whisk until it starts to boil. You will see that it begins to thicken, but don´t let it get too thick because when it chills it will also thicken and we want it to be creamy.
7. As soon as you see the first boiling bubbles, remove it from the heat and pour it into traditional clay dishes.
8. Allow the custard to cool at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Then, put it to chill in the refrigerator for 3 hours. Keep in mind this resting time in case you want to serve the cream the same day or overnight.
How and When Do I Caramelize Crema Catalana ?
9. Just before serving. I recommend taking crema catalana out of the fridge half an hour before eating it, so you can enjoy savouring its creaminess. Then, using a spoon, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of each dish. Bring the blue flame of a small kitchen blowtorch close to the sugar until it first becomes liquid and then golden brown. This is why it’s also known as burnt cream, and it’s how you get a crunchy, caramelized crust on top of the custard.
I Don’t Have A Blowtorch!
Don´t worry, you can burn the sugar in the oven, putting crema catalana as close as possible to the broiler. First, preheat the oven to 428ºF (220ºC), and when it reaches the temperature, sprinkle the sugar onto the cream and, immediately, put it in under the broiler for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn it! It might not get the same results as with the blowtorch, but it will work.
More Traditional Spanish Custard Recipes
If you liked this crema catalana recipe, I invite you to try these traditional Spanish custard desserts.
- Flan: This classic Spanish dessert consists of egg custard baked in a water bath and topped with caramel sauce.
- Natillas: This Spanish custard dessert is made with basic ingredients.
- Crema Pastelera: This pastry cream recipe is a must in your recipe book!
From one delicious dessert comes another delicious dessert. While making this crema catalana, I had eight egg whites left over. What should I cook with these egg whites? The answer was a delicious pavlova .
Authentic Crema Catalana Recipe
- 1 litre whole milk
- ¾ cups granulated sugar (150 grams)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 lemon peel
- 8 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon sugar per serving for caramelized crust optional
- In a saucepan, add milk, a cinnamon stick and a lemon peel.
- Put it over high heat and when it starts to boil, lower the heat and let it cook for 5 more minutes. Set aside with the saucepan covered.
- Separate 8 egg yolks from 8 egg whites. In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a hand held mixer at medium speed until foamy and pale yellow.
- Add 2 tablespoons of cornflour to the mixture and beat with the hand mixer until well integrated.
- pour the milk into the mixture through a sieve, removing the cinnamon stick and the lemon peel. Whisk with the hand mixer for one second.
- Once you have all the mixture integrated, put it back on the stove over a medium heat. Stir with a whisk until it starts to boil.
- As soon as you see the first boiling bubble, remove it from the heat and pour it into traditional clay dishes.
- Deja que se atempere 10 minutos y metes la crema en la nevera durante 3 horas hasta que repose y enfríe.
- Before serving, sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top of each dish with a spoon and burn the sugar with a small kitchen blowtorch to caramelize the thin layer. Et voilà! You have just made a delicious crema catalana!