Crema Catalana

Crema Catalana
For the French, the Catalan version of their crème brûlée. For the Catalans, the real deal plus the true original recipe. For everyone else, a heavenly dessert that everyone seems to love.

There are many who claim the credit for the original creation of the Crema Catalana recipe, a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a crunchy layer of burnt caramel. Of course I don’t really know who was the first person to make this recipe. But what I know is that one of the first ever Catalan recipe books —the ‘Sent Soví’ cookbook— already included this preparation back in 1324. And hey, if I’d been cooking a dessert for nearly seven centuries, I’d probably consider it my own, whatever others claim including the French, whose crème brûlée is only mentioned for the first time in a 17th century cookbook.

Whatever its origin though, the Crema Catalana is today a recognizable symbol of the Catalan cuisine and a dessert that is broadly consumed in Catalonia all year round. There is a day though when every Catalan family keeps the tradition of celebrating something very special with a good Crema Catalana. It happens every year on March the 19th for St. Joseph’s Day, which in Spain happens to be Father’s Day too.

Today the Crema Catalana has become so popular that its unique burnt caramel aftertaste is used in the making of cake stuffings, nougats, turrones, ice creams and even liqueurs. And whatever the variant it’s invariably heavenly!

A final anecdote before we start cooking. There is a tale telling the story of a bishop who planned on visiting a convent back in the days. The convent nuns thought of preparing a ‘flan’ —a Spanish sweet egg pudding— to greet the bishop. Unexpectedly the recipe went wrong and the flan only got the consistency of a thick custard. To mask the mistake, the nuns served the custard covered with a layer of burnt caramel on top. The bishop tried it when the caramel was still very hot and he screamed “crema!”, which is Catalan for “it burns!”. That is how allegedly the Crema Catalana got his name.

Crema Catalana
Serves: people Print recipe
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Passive time: 150 minutes
Difficulty: Easy



  1. Combine the milk, the cinnamon, the orange zest and the pinch of salt in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat over a medium heat and bring to a boil. Then quickly remove and cover the saucepan with cling film –or simply with a plate– leaving to infuse for at least 15-20 minutes. Sieve the mix and leave aside until completely cold.
  2. In a separate saucepan, mix 50g of sugar and the cornflour. Add enough of the cold infused milk to make a light paste and whisk. Then keep adding the rest of the milk little by little. Bring everything to a boil again, then remove from the heat and leave aside to cool.
  3. In a different bowl, mix the egg yolk with the rest of the sugar thoroughly. Whisk the mix into the milk and heat until it starts bubbling at around 80ºC-90ºC, being very careful it doesn’t boil. Keep stirring at all times until the consistency gets thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Then remove.
  4. Distribute the custard in the different individual pots and let it cool down for a couple of hour in the fridge until it acquires the final thicker consistency.
  5. Sprinkle a fine layer of brown sugar on top the custard and with the help of a blowtorch, burn the sugar until it melts and caramelizes. If you don’t own a blowtorch, you can place the custard under a very hot oven grill, always keeping an eye so the caramel does not burnt completely.
  6. Let it cool down for 5 minutes before serving.