Nothing is more frustrating than trying a recipe and finding out that it’s wrong. And that’s exactly what happened when we tried making Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for crème caramel from his book Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World’s Most Versatile Ingredient. Once we started, it became obvious that, as written, it was never tested. But, fortunately for you, every single recipe you read on this site is tested in the Scratchin’ It Test Kitchen, making it possible for you just to whip up desserts like crème caramel as though you were a pro.
While we were looking through Egg, we spotted a recipe for crème caramel and immediately changed our dessert plans from popovers with a raspberry sauce. About the time we were whisking up the custard, we realized that the amount of custard we were making was too much. By at least a factor of two, so we had to scramble to make up another batch of caramel. We’ve corrected that for you below. We also changed the recipe for the caramel slightly, making it less likely to crystallize. Have at it!
The corn syrup is there to help prevent the sugar from crystallizing. No one likes little crystals in a smooth caramel sauce, so use it. If you’re concerned about high-fructose corn syrup, read the labels, because some are HFCS-free. Vanilla is pure and real, of course. And eggs? Well, this is mainly an egg dish, so use good eggs, preferably from some happy hens.
Procedure in detail:
Make caramel. In a medium saucepan, stir together the corn syrup and sugar, then place over medium-high heat. Gently stir until the sugar dissolves and melts. Continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup becomes a golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Divide among ramekins. Remove the caramel from the heat and divide the syrup amongst four 4- to 5-ounce ramekins or custard cups. Let the caramel cool until it hardens like candy.
Set up water bath. Place the ramekins in an 8×8 inch baking dish and fill the baking dish with enough hot tap water so that it comes 3/4 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Remove ramekins, and place the baking dish with the water on the middle rack in the oven.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Make custard. In a medium bowl, or, if you have one, a large measuring cup with a spout for easier pouring, whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Whisk enough so that the custard is uniform, while trying to avoid forming foam. If you’re having trouble mixing without creating bubbles, you’re better off with a uniform mixture with foam, than with a custard that still has unmixed egg whites without foam.
Fill ramekins. Divide the custard mix amongst the four prepared ramekins. It should be the perfect amount to fill them nearly to the top.
Bake. Carefully place the ramekins into the hot water bath, and let them bake until the custard is just set and the center jiggles a bit when the sides are tapped, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Cool and chill. Remove the ramekins to a cooling rack and let cool to about room temperature, about 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled, 2 to 3 hours.
Serve. To serve, run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the custard and invert onto a plate, letting the caramel sauce cover the custard.
We overcooked the caramel just a tad, leaving it with the slightest burnt sugar taste, so go easy on cooking the sugar. We will say, however, that the custard turned out perfectly — smooth, creamy, lots of vanilla flavor — a bit surprising, because crème caramel seems as if it might be fussy — thanks to the water bath. Since we followed the original recipe, we have four extra custards sitting in the fridge. Any takers?
If you watch the caramel so that it doesn’t get too brown, this is an easy five-star dessert.