Crema Catalana is the Spanish version of creme brulee. On the other hand, some would say the opposite - that the French learned this recipe from their close neighbors in Catalunya. Either way, this creamy dessert with a caramelized sugar topping is fun to make and delightful to eat.
The authentic way to create this classic dessert requires a red-hot heating iron. However, before we get to the fun part, first you need to make a simple custard flavored with vanilla and lemon, using traditional terra cotta cazuela dishes (see recipe below).
This gift packed kit includes six terra cotta cazuelas from Catalunya and a burner (called a salamander) especially made to fit them. The box also includes instructions and a recipe.
Note: The heating iron comes with a thin, non-toxic protective coating to prevent it from rusting. Prior to first use, you will need to heat the round end of the iron and burn off the coating in a well-ventilated area.
After every use, the iron needs to be lightly oiled, like a cast iron skillet, before storing.
The recipe for Crema Catalana is as follows:
6 egg yolks
4 1/4 cups of milk
3/4 cup of sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean
In a pot, mix the milk with the vanilla bean, lemon zest and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and strain the mixture, setting aside the vanilla bean and lemon zest. Add the egg yolks to the hot milk mixture and stir constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir and put back on the heat once again and bring to a boil, removing immediately just when boiling begins again. Pour the cream into the ceramic cazuelas, allow to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Heat the included iron (called a salamander in Spanish!) on a stove burner until the disk is red hot. It makes a big difference when applying the heat to the sugar.
Sprinkle each Crema Catalana with sugar — raw sugar is particularly good - and hold the iron very close to the surface, but not touching. This will caramelize the sugar, thereby creating a crunchy sweet crust on top.
How caramelized you want the sugar to be is a matter of personal taste. Some people like the sugar toasted dark brown, others a lighter tan color.
The process may create some smoke, so do this in a well ventilated area! Now they are ready to serve.
How to Cure Your New Cazuela for Cooking:
If you are planning on cooking with your cazuela, you will need to soak and cure it using the following directions.
Soak the entire dish in water to cover for 12 hours. Drain and wipe dry. Rub the unglazed bottom with a cut clove of garlic (we are not sure how the garlic works, but why argue with tradition?) Fill the dish with water to 1/2 inch below the rim, then add 1/2 cup of vinegar. Place the dish on a flame-tamer over low heat and slowly bring the water to a boil (no flame tamer? Crumple a sheet of aluminum foil and create a ring that you place over your burner to create about an inch of space between the heat and the cazuela).
Let the liquid boil down until only about 1/2 cup remains. Cool slowly and wash. Your cazuela is ready for use - the garlic has created a seal. This technique has been used since the Middle Ages. It seasons the pot, kills bacteria and hardens the unglazed parts.
Especially if you intend to use the cazuela to cook strong flavored fish or seafood, after soaking, rub the inside of the base with olive oil and put into a preheated 300 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Turn off the heat and let cool. Either method will strengthen your cazuela.
To clean, soak in sudsy water and scrub with a soft brush to remove any hardened food.
If you have not used the cazuela for an extended period of time, you may need to re-cure it before use.