Classic French crème caramel on a Middle Eastern food blog? Allow me to share a (very, very) brief history:
Lebanon and Syria were under a French mandate from 1920-1943, during which time the French culinary influence soaked deeply into the veins of Arab cuisine (and vice versa). It was also during that time that Beirut was affectionately referred to as the Paris of the Mediterranean, and many people of my parents generation were French educated. Today, it’s not at all uncommon to hear bits and pieces of the French language interspersed in passing Arabic conversation, see French pastry shops lining the streets, and enjoy other French-inspired treats, like this one, at home.
Like many recipes on this blog, this one is very personal, from the kitchen of my late Teta (grandmother). She taught my mother how to make this, who has now taught me, and just like that, another heirloom lives on.
What sets Teta’s recipe apart is its texture. Crème caramel can be very rich and dense, but hers, due to the addition of extra eggs, is bouncy and light. It uses whole milk instead of heavy cream, and the rind of one small orange for a bit of lift. The orange incidentally cuts out the eggy flavor that some people (my husband) aren’t fond of. Don’t be shy – let the caramel really darken in the pot. This gives it an amazing burnt caramel flavor. You could certainly add a dash of Grand Marnier, too, because everything is better with brandy.
- For the custard
- 6 cups whole milk
- ten eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- rind of two lemons or two oranges
- 2 tablespoons of vanilla
- For the caramel
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 cup water
- Preheat oven to 180C /350F. Boil a few cups of water into a kettle and set aside (this will be used for the water bath).
- Make the caramel. If your baking tin is flameproof, make the caramel directly in there. If not, use a small pot. Bring 1 cup sugar, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 cup water to a boil, then let simmer untouched for 5-7 minutes, until it starts to turn golden. Allow it to reach a deep golden color, then swirl around the baking tin (or pour into the baking tin and swirl) to coat the bottom, and a bit of the sides. Set aside to cool.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and orange rind.
- Warm the milk until it's just hot enough so that your finger can still stay in a second or two (the old school test, it shouldn't be too hot or the eggs will curdle). Pour slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly until incorporated.
- Pour the custard mixture into the prepared baking dish, then place in a larger tray and fill with hot water. Bake 1 1/2 hours or until it is mostly set (a little jiggle is fine!).
- Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- To serve, loosen the sides a bit from the pan by running a sharp knife around it, then place the cold pan in about an inch of hot water a moment to loosen it. Place the serving dish on top and turn the pan over.
The quantities above are the original as prepared by my Teta and mom. On this occasion I halved the recipe to suit two people vs a whole family, which worked well. Just reduce all ingredients by half, and reduce cooking time to 45 minutes.