What is Crema Catalana?
Crema Catalana (pronounced “creh-mah-kha-ta-lah-na”), or Catalonian cream, is a Spanish dessert based on creamy custard. The custard is subtly infused with vanilla, citrus and cinnamon and the dessert is topped with a crispy layer of caramelised sugar.
There is a wide variety of custard-based desserts to be found in European cuisine. Dutch vanilla custard is one example but the most well known is French creme brulee. The discussion between the French and the Spanish about whose dessert is the oldest and most original will continue for some time. If you refer to historical records, crema Catalana seems to be the winner as a recipe for the dessert can be found in a 14th-century Catalonian cookbook, while the first recipe for creme brulee appears in the 17th century.
Crema Catalana and creme brulee can appear very similar but, in general, crema Catalana is lighter because it is made with milk, as opposed to creme brulee, which is made with cream, but there are exceptions to the rule.
Did you know?
Crema Catalana is also called crema cremada (burnt cream) or crema de Sant Josep (St. Joseph’s cream). Traditionally, the dessert is enjoyed on the 19th March during the feast of Saint Joseph. Father’s Day is also celebrated on this day in Spain.
How to prepare Crema Catalana
First, milk is gently heated and infused with one vanilla pod, citrus peel and a cinnamon stick. The flavourings are then removed from the milk and the seeds are scraped from the vanilla pod and whisked in with egg yolks, cornflour and sugar. The warm milk is then poured over the egg yolks and briskly whisked until it becomes a thin custard. By slowly cooking the mixture, the thickness can be increased as desired.
Crema Catalana is often served in small one-person terracotta dishes. After the dessert has cooled down, they can be moved to the fridge to set. Just before serving them, the desserts are sprinkled with sugar and heated under a grill or with a special flame until the sugar caramelises.
How to eat
Tap the top of the dessert with your spoon to break the caramelised layer of sugar and take small bites of custard and caramel together. The dish can be served in the authentic way on Father’s Day.
Crema Catalana is best enjoyed on its own. Allow yourself to experience the sweetness of the custard and the crispness of the caramel. Follow up with a strong cup of coffee.
In terms of flavour and texture, creamy Italian panna cotta comes close to Spanish crema Catalana but without the caramelised top layer.