Crème Caramel – just like my French godmother made

Side view of creme caramel on a plate with caramel sauce

Have I ever told you about my godmother? She was my grandmother's best friend (they lived a couple doors down from each other), and was one of the most influential people in my life when it came to cooking. I remember standing on my tippy toes, teetering precariously on a stool, in her kitchen watching her stir a sauce, the fragrance enveloping her and mixing effortlessly with her perfume. She always smelled of butter, fresh herbs and lilac. Crème caramel was one of the first dishes I remember making with her. I was in charge of whisking the eggs while she made the caramel in a heavy copper pot she'd carried with her from France. And, yep, I'm fully aware of how annoying some of these stories are and how food bloggers get called out for not getting "right to the recipe". But this recipe is a piece of my godmother, and a piece of my heart. It reminds me of her every time I make it. I hear her lilting accent encouraging me, guiding me and can still see her giving me a "chef's kiss" the first time I made this all by myself. I think she'd be really thrilled to see it here and have it shared with you. Bon Appetit, friends.

a photo of my godmother and I at a party in dressy clothes
Marraine and I circa 1980-something...in my era of french braids and lace.

Now for your questions.......if I don't answer them here, you can always leave a comment below and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have!

Do I have to make caramel sauce?

Well, since caramel is literally in the name of the dish, yep, you need to have caramel. BUT there is a little shortcut. I tried this dish by sprinkling a tablespoon of dark brown sugar in the bottom of each ramekin before adding the custard. It wasn't traditional caramel, but the dark brown sugar mimicked a lot of the characteristics of caramel. If you're short on time, try the brown sugar and let me know what you think!

Can I make this without eggs/milk/cream?

I know there are recipes that use condensed milk, but that will make the consistency of your crème caramel a lot heavier and thicker. But, like I always say, try using condensed milk or coconut milk and see what happens. We learn so much when we have the courage to try......and if it works, let me know!! And if it doesn't, oh well! Trust me, I've had loads of complete failures and disasters in the kitchen, but they've all taught me something. (like there is such a thing as adding too much harissa.....but that's a story for another time!)

How long will this last?

Because of the eggs and milk, I wouldn't keep it more than 4 days.

Can I make this in one large dish?

Yes! You don't have to make this in ramekins. You can make this in a pie dish, pyrex dish or even a loaf pan. Depending on the size and depth, you'll need to add extra time, probably about an extra 10 minutes. You'll still need to bake it in a large roasting pan and ban marie (water bath), so whatever you vessel you want to bake it in, be sure it fits in your larger roasting pan.

Isn't this the same thing as crème brûlée?

Not really. Crème caramel is a light, smooth creamy texture and is crème brûlée has a thicker more custard like texture with a sugar top that's burnt to make a hard candy crust.

If you're craving more recipes with caramel:

Apple Pie Spiced Caramels

Chocolate Caramels

Side view of creme caramel on a plate with caramel sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 8 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract use the highest quality you can find or you can also use one vanilla bean, split
  • Boiling water

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place 8 six ounce ramekins in a large roasting pan and set aside.
  • In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over very low heat, combine ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil and carefully watch it! Keep it on a soft boil until the sugar caramelizes and turns a light golden brown. This will seem like it's taking awhile, but happens faster than you think, so don't leave your stove. If you accidentally burn the caramel, you'll have to start over......and who's got time for that, right?
  • As soon as the caramel is a golden brown, remove from heat.
  • Carefully pour a small amount of caramel into each of the six ramekins, tilting the ramekins in a circular motion so that the caramel evenly coats the base of each. You'll use all the caramel in this step, so keep dividing it among the ramekins until the caramel is all gone. Let cool to room temperature while you make the custard.
  • In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and the vanilla bean (or extract) and bring to a very low simmer. Now, before you start to worry about adding the hot liquid to your egg mixture (a couple of steps down), I've warmed the milk AND also added the milk and vanilla extract completely cold. I couldn't tell enough of a difference to be absolutely firm in needing to heat the milk. If this step gives you anxiety, skip to the next step (whisking the eggs) and add the milk/vanilla cold.
  • While you're waiting for the milk to heat up, in a large bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment) whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and remaining ½ cup sugar until fully incorporated. You want to whisk the mixture until it's frothy.
  • Whisking constantly, pour about a quarter of the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture. You're tempering the eggs and preventing them from turning into scrambled, so don't skip this step.
  • After you've tempered the eggs with some warm milk, slowly add the remaining hot milk mixture, constantly whisking while you add it.
  • Strain the custard mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring bowl with pour spout.
  • Divide the custard mixture evenly between the caramel-coated ramekins.
  • Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish so that it comes about ⅔ of the way up the sides of the ramekins. This is called a "bain-marie" which is a fancy term for a water bath. It creates a gentle heat and is often used to cook custards.
  • Carefully transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake until custard is just set, about 20-30 minutes. The custards are done when a butter knife inserted in the center of one of the ramekins comes out clean. My oven runs very hot, so my custards are usually done in 20 minutes. I highly recommend checking your custards early, so you don't over cook them.
  • Remove roasting pan from oven, and with an oven mitt carefully remove the ramekins. Refrigerate them until ready to serve, at least 1 hour.
  • When you're ready to serve, carefully run a knife along the edge of the ramekins and invert the ramekins onto a serving plate.
Have you made this recipe?I'd love to know! Leave a comment or recipe rating and tag me @amenuforyou on social media!

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