I have bucket loads of happy childhood memories spent in the kitchen with my maternal grandparents – my Nan and Grandad, and every time I see them I add a few more to the long list.
Having grown up in war-bruised Britain, where food was more a necessity than an enjoyment, N&G were the first generation to experience the beginnings of what we have become so accustomed to these days – cooking for pleasure rather than need.
It all began with traditional french cookbooks written by Cordon Bleu-trained chefs of the Elizabeth David variety, but once quirky personalities like Fanny Cradock and Julia Child hit the small screens, there was no going back. By the time Graham Kerr, and later Keith Floyd and good old Delia rocked up, people were beginning to realise that Britain did actually have some culinary talent. There was no longer the need to import recipes from across the pond.
After decades of boiled ham, soggy cabbage, and blander-than-bland pease pudding, cooking had finally grown into something enjoyable, inspiring, and delicious.
N&G are one of the primary reasons that I have grown into such a passionate foodie myself and, interestingly, it’s actually recipes that they have been cooking for years and years that I find myself always going back to. One – an old classic – is Crème Caramel. This is one of my all-time favourite desserts, and it is so simple. Crème Caramel is essentially caramel-coated set custard. The tricky part is the caramel, but once you’ve mastered that, you’ll never look back.
The only thing I will say about Crème Caramel is that it doesn’t always turn out perfectly – so don’t worry if you end up with a sloppy heap of goop. This is what happened to me in round one of preparing for this post (evidence below) and it still tasted positively SCRUMPTIOUS. Who really cares THAT much about presentation, eh? I’m all for cooking for flavour. Aesthetics need only be a pleasant afterthought if you’re just cooking at home. I only made this twice because I needed a reasonable picture! If you are planning on using it for a dinner party, however, I definitely recommend some practice runs! I wish you luck! Happy cooking y’all!
For the dessert you will need either a deep, round oven-proof basin with vertical edges (sloped will make it impossible to turn out the dessert once set) with a diameter of approx. 20cm, or alternatively 6 ramekins.
Pre-heat oven to 160°C
For The Caramel
85g white granulated sugar
1/4 pint water
For The Custard
1 pint whole milk
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
25g caster sugar
1/ Using your chosen basin/ramekins to guide you, make a greaseproof paper “hat” to use later when cooking the custard. The hat will prevent the custard from browning too quickly. Place basin/ramekins in oven to warm up (without headgear). This will make it easier to work with the caramel later.
2/ Heat sugar and water in a small saucepan. It is vital that you DON’T STIR, as it will stop the sugar from caramelising and cause it to crystallise. Leave the mixture on the heat until it begins to turn brown in colour (should take about 10 mins) – you can gently swirl the pan if necessary. As is begins to change colour, remove you vessel(s) from the oven and place next to your stove. This is where you have to move quickly. Pour the caramel into your basin/ramekins, and swirl to evenly coat the sides (see pics below). Set aside on a cooling rack to allow it to set
3/ Meanwhile, it’s time to prepare the custard. Heat milk, caster sugar, and vanilla in a small saucepan until lukewarm.
4/ In a bowl, beat the eggs and yolks, then pour in the vanilla milk, making sure to continue to whisk mixture until fully combined.
5/ Once the caramel has set, pour the custard mixture through a sieve and into your basin/ramekins.
6/ Place puddings in a bain-marie (a larger dish with a couple of centimetres depth of boiling water), put the greaseproof paper hat on top, and bake for 45 minutes or until the custard has set. You will know that it is done because it will jiggle all at once (symmetrically) if you push the basin. If different parts of the custard move independently, it is not set yet.
7) Remove pudding from oven, and allow to cool completely.
8) To turn out, run a knife around the perimeter of the desert, and tip gently from side to side to loosen it from the edge. Take your serving dish and place upside down on top of the basin/ramekin. In one quick fluid motion, flip the whole lot upside down, and carefully remove the original container. With any luck, you’ll have a beautifully set custard dessert, glistening with caramel sauce. If not, then don’t worry! The slop will still taste good. Serve with fresh cream. Mmmmmm!