Recipe – Crema Catalana


One of the sweets in our Month of Sardinian recipes pack inspired by chef Giovanni Pilu is bianchini, moreish little meringues studded with toasted almonds and lemon zest. Making them (or any meringue) means leftover egg yolks … a perfect excuse to cook this classic Spanish dessert which is also very popular in Sardinia, a reminder of the Catalan influence there. The traditional recipe is a custard of egg yolks, milk, cornflour and sugar cooked on the stovetop then set in the fridge in shallow terracotta dishes. I like the traditional flavourings of cinnamon and lemon zest; orange zest appears in some recipes and Giovanni adds a pinch of saffron (which grows in Sardinia) and a vanilla bean to his, so feel free to be inspired. Best of all, it’s done in advance, even the crisp toffee crust, then whipped out at dessert time to make you look like a kitchen guru.
.

Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • ¾ cup castor sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cups full-cream milk
Method
  1. Whisk egg yolks, cornflour and ½ cup of the sugar together in a saucepan until pale golden and smooth.
  2. Break in the cinnamon stick and grate in the lemon rind.
  3. Add milk and whisk to combine well.
  4. Place over a low-medium heat and stir constantly until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon (see FAQ below).
  5. Remove from heat and continue stirring for a minute or so to cool it slightly.
  6. Strain into 4 shallow, heat-proof 1-cup moulds and refrigerate for a few hours until set, ideally overnight.
  7. Sprinkle remaining sugar over the custards and use a kitchen blow torch to caramelise it.
  8. Return to fridge until ready to serve; the toffee topping will stay crisp for a few hours.
FAQ

What does it mean when a recipe says until a sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon?
Coating the back of a wooden spoon is a classic description for a properly thickened custard or sauce, it means that when you run your finger through the mixture on the back of the spoon it doesn’t flow back in to fill the space your finger has made.
How do I know when custard is thick enough?
It can take 5-10 minutes for custard cooked on a stove top to thicken, but don’t be tempted to speed it up by increasing the temperature, nor to stop stirring, or you may end up with scrambled eggs. If you have a digital probe thermometer, you’ll see that the custard noticeably thickens around 80°C. That’s when it clearly passes the ‘coats the back of the wooden spoon’ test. Stir it for a further minute or so then remove from the heat as, after this point, it won’t thicken any further.
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