Crema Catalana -Catalan cream- is also known as crema quemada (burnt cream) or Crema San Joseph (Saint Joseph). It was originally consumed in Catalonia and it is this region's most typical dessert, and then it spread in all of Spain. It's tradition to prepare this dessert on March 19, when Saint Joseph is commemorated, which also happens to be the last day of Lent. Over this period, orthodox Christians would have been following a strict diet, so this tasty cream dessert would have been a welcoming change! Saint Joseph's day is also the Spanish equivalent of Father's day, so many children in Spain make this dessert for their dads. You could always surprise your Dad this year and make hime some crema catalana!
However if we go back in time to its beginning we can trace it back to Jewish food. The hebrews were very appreciative of the many and great combinations of milk and eggs. We have some references of Crema Catalana in medieval archives, as "illet cuita" (cooked milk). Apparently it didn't always have the caramel coating and sometimes it was decorated with pastry bags.
Today, Crema Catalana is without doubt one of the most famous examples of Catalan desserts and is recognised both natioanlly and internationally thanks to its simple preparation, originality and taste. Within Spain, the town of Sant Bartomeu del Grau celebrate a Crema Catalana cooking competition on the 4th of March, which forms part of the town's Craft and Commercial fair.
It's a simple recipe with common ingredients, however its difficulty lies in the sugar that coats it, which is heated on a steel plate or with a cooking blowtorch until it melts leaving a crunchy layer. Originally this was done with a heated rod, however thanks to the development and innovations made by various Catalan chefs such as Ferran Adrià, it is now much more common for this process to be done using a gas burner.
The most similar dessert is Crème brûlée. The main difference is that crema catalana is made from milk and is then thickened with corn starch and egg, and the French dessert made with thick cream and eggs, and cooked in the oven in a water bath, and it has a texture more similar to a flan. If you want to watch your calorie intake, you can use skimmed cream, however it does not produce quite the same results as it does with whole milk.
The taste of crema catalana is so distinctive that it has been used as the basis of many other products in Spain. You can find crema catalana ice cream as well as a nougat like sweet which is called 'torró'. The flavour has also been copied in several liquors and liqueurs across the country.
If you ever happen to go to Barcelona be sure to try crema catalana, it will be served in most restaurants. But if you can't wait to get to Spain, you could always have a go at making this Spanish dessert at home by following our simple recipe below:
Ingredients (6 portions):