One of my favourite Sardinian sweets is bianchini, moreish little meringues studded with toasted almonds and lemon zest. Making them (or any meringue) means leftover egg yolks and a perfect excuse to cook crema Catalana. This classic Spanish dessert 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 Sardinian chef Giovanni Pilu adds a pinch of saffron (which grows in Sardinia) and a vanilla bean to his, so feel free to be inspired. Best of all crema Catalana is made in advance, even the crisp toffee crust, then whipped out at dessert time to make you look like a kitchen guru.
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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.
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.