Classic Crema Catalana Recipe

Creme Brulee (crema catalana)
Getty Images/Juanmonino
  • 20 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins,
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: 6 servings
Ratings (4)

Creme brulee may be more well known internationally, but crema catalana claims to have existed longer than its French cousin. The two custard based desserts certainly have their similarities, though generally creme brulee is baked in the oven in a water bath and crema catalana is simply chilled. The differences don't stop there -- the French version is enhanced with vanilla bean and the Spanish version with citrus. Many places in Spain still make their ​crema catalana with a smoking hot iron (to caramelize the sugar on top) versus the more modern blowtorch method. Spaniards will generally eat this dessert at lunch time, after a large lunch or included as a part of a menú del día.

The best thing about this recipe is that it's simple to pull together -- no oven time necessary! Just make a quick custard, let it chill, sprinkle with sugar and caramelize it. It's an impressive end to a Spanish tapas party, especially if you can find cute ramekins for serving.  

What You'll Need

  • 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 2 1/4 cups of whole milk
  • Peel from 1 small lemon  
  • 1/2 a cinnamon stick (you can also substitute a sliced vanilla pod or lightly crushed cardamom pods)
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup, plus  2 tablespoons of sugar (use superfine sugar for a smoother texture)
  • Garnish: extra sugar to pour on top and caramelize

How to Make It

  1. Start by heating the milk. Place the milk into a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the lemon peel and your spice of choice (either the cinnamon stick, vanilla pod or cardamom pods). Heat over a medium-low heat until the mixture starts to slowly boil. 
  2. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon of water.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks together until the mixture is pale yellow in color. 
  1. Add the cornstarch in water and also a splash of the hot milk mixture to the yolk mixture. Stir well until everything is well combined. 
  2. Take the lemon peel and spices out of the milk mixture and set aside. Turn the heat down to low and slowly drizzle in the egg yolk mixture, while stirring constantly. It is important to add little by little so that the eggs don't curdle -- this is called tempering.
  3. Stir the mixture non-stop until it thickens to the consistency of a thin pudding. 
  4. Take the pot off of the heat and pour the custard into serving ramekins or clay dishes. 
  5. Chill the crema catalana in the refrigerator overnight, until they are set and chilled through.
  6. Before serving, sprinkle with sugar and turn over to discard any excess sugar. Now comes the fun part -- caramelizing the sugar with a small blowtorch (you can purchase this tool at any culinary store). 
  7. Enjoy for dessert with a café con leche!