A custard is a custard is a custard. Or is it? In the pastry kitchen, very specific definitions apply to different custards and, if you have ever wondered what the difference is between a creme brulee and a creme caramel, here is a little primer.
A brulee (burnt cream) is an egg and milk based custard heated on the stove, strained and baked in a hot water bath in individual brulee dishes (which tend to be wide and short). Once cold, and before being served, it gets covered in sugar that is quickly torched thus creating a thin and hard caramel layer on top. The same effect can be achieved by sliding the brulee under a broiler for a few seconds, although the result won’t be as even as the one obtained with a torch. Its origins are murky but indisputably French. The classic creme brulee is vanilla flavored but a million flavor variations have been concocted. One of my favourite ones is passion fruit brulee.
POT DE CREME
A pot de creme is essentially made the same way as a creme brulee but the base is strained into individual ramekins that are taller than a brulee dish (hence the pot part). Also baked in a water bath and served cold, it doesn’t have a hard layer on top. The ratio of milk to eggs is slightly different as well, making the pot de creme a bit looser and creamier. Chocolate is a standard pot de creme but, again, imagination is the limit.
Creme Caramel, while still technically a custard, is baked in a mold whose bottom has been covered by a layer of caramel. The egg and milk custard is poured on top, then baked and, when unmolded, the loose caramel layer will cover the top and sides, giving the final dish a slightly burnt flavor. Creme Caramel is heavily related to FLAN, also made with a layer of liquid caramel and inverted before serving. In many Mexican and Central American traditions, flan is made with condensed and evaporated milks and, for an even thicker texture, with cream cheese.
Budino is a sort of pudding, the only one made on the stove and not baked, with milk, eggs, sugar, chocolate (or any other flavor) and then poured in a mold and refrigerated. Its consistency is fairly thick, between a custard and a jelly.
Here is a pot de creme recipe of my creation. It requires mango puree, which can be bought on-line or obtained by pureeing and straining fresh mangoes.
MANGO POT DE CREME – RECIPE – Yields 6 4 oz portions
1 C Heavy Cream
3/4 C Milk
3/4 C Sugar
1/2 C Mango Puree
- Combine cream, milk, sugar and mango puree and bring to near boiling. Remove from heat.
- Place the yolks in a bowl, ladle some of the hot mixture in and whisk very rapidly. Repeat with a few more ladles and then add all the liquid.
- Strain through a tight strainer or cheesecloth.
- Pour the liquid into ramekins, place them in a roasting pan with hot water reaching about 1/4 up the sides of the ramekins. Cover loosely with foil.
- Bake at 350F for about 40 minutes or until set. You will know they are set by gently shaking the ramekins: the pot de creme will jiggle as a whole.
- Let cool and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.