Crème caramel is one of my favorite desserts. It's basically a rich custard with a layer of soft caramel. I dressed this one up with a little espresso powder and cardamom.
Making these desserts reminded me of my childhood. My mom would tell me every day not to eat anything before dinner, but after coming home from school, I would always make a beeline to the refrigerator when she wasn't looking. I would get one crème caramel, flip it onto a plate, and let the delicious caramel flow in every direction. It didn't last very long; I would inhale the dessert and lick all the caramel off the plate before I got caught. You would think that I wouldn't really have enjoyed the dessert because I ate it so fast, but there was something thrilling (and delicious) about sneaking a bite without anyone knowing. Maybe that's why I named my site Pham Fatale. I've been in the (food) espionage business for a long time!
These covert operations inevitably would make me too full for dinner. I know I was a terrible child! My parents always wondered why I never ate, and have probably been unaware of my antics until now. Sorry Mom!
I think, in America, crème caramel and flan can be used interchangeably.
Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Line up 14 2.75-ounce mini-ramekins. In a small saucepan, gently dissolve a little less than a cup of sugar with water. Bring to a full boil, then lower to medium-low until the caramel becomes golden brown (about 5-6 minutes). As soon as the caramel is the right golden brown color, pour a layer of caramel into each ramekin.
Using a paring knife, scrape and gather all the grains of the vanilla bean. On the stove, pour the half and half into a sauce pan. Dissolve the coffee powder into the half and half and add the grains of vanilla and the vanilla bean. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat right away. Let the liquid cool a bit. Discard the vanilla bean.
Separately, whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs with the rest of the sugar in a mixing bowl until it becomes pale yellow. Add the cardamom extract. Combine the coffee liquid with the egg mixture by slowly adding a ladle of the coffee mixture at a time to prevent the yolks from curdling.
Strain through a fine mesh. Fill the 14 mini ramekins with the mixture. Place them in a warm water bath in a deep baking pan. The water should go half way up the side of the ramekins. Bake for 10 minutes at 300°F, then lower the heat to 275°F for 45-50 minutes. The texture of the crème caramel should be jiggly but not too liquid.
Let the crèmes cool first, then plastic-wrap each individual ramekin and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
When serving, place a dessert plate onto each ramekin and turn both upside down to unmold crème caramel onto the plate.
I added coffee and cardamom to the crème caramel because knowing I'm feeding a crowd of vegetarians, I didn't want them to complain about an eggy taste. Cardamom is a very versatile spice that goes well with both savory and sweet dishes. You can find cardamom extract in Indian stores.
Set aside the egg whites in the refrigerator and save for making tuiles (literally roof tiles in French). I'll post the recipe very soon.
This recipe yields 14 mini-ramekins. You can serve the creme caramels in regular size ramekins but I prefer using the small version for more caramel coating.
When making the caramel, make sure all the sugar is dissolved and there is no sugar on the side of the saucepan. This way no sugar gets burnt and you have an easier clean-up. Prior to placing the saucepan on the stove, I usually slightly dissolve the sugar by creating a swirl in the center of the saucepan with my finger. During the caramelization process, if you see sugar on the side of the saucepan, just brush the side with a wet brush. Believe me, it's so hard to get burnt sugar off a pan!
When making caramel, you have to be very careful. Don't go away from the stove, even if the phone rings or someone's at the door. If you wait too long, the caramel will taste bitter or even worse, it will be burnt. So watch your caramel carefully because it changes color very fast.
As opposed to crème caramels, crème brulées have a hard caramel topping. Check out my other French custard desserts.
If you don't have half and half, just mix 1 part whole milk with 1 part heavy cream.
Flip the crème caramel only when you're ready to serve. If you want to be even more cautious, you can use a paring knife around the crème caramel right before flipping the ramekin.
When it's time to clean up, just boil some water and pour the hot water into the ramekins so the caramel dissolves immediately for an easy clean-up.