Last week, N was sick, so I promised to make caramel custard. In my family, this is what you eat when you are sick. The ultimate comfort food – sweet, soft, silky smooth and soothing! It comes in a variety of guises – flan or creme brûlée with its crunchy caramel, steamed or baked, vanilla flavoured or coconut milk, fancy restaurant dessert or homemade comfort food!
My earliest memories of caramel custard are from my grandmother’s kitchen. The smell of burnt sugar wafting through the house, the big battered pressure cooker she used as a steamer, the beating of eggs and milk, the rattling of the bowl as it danced inside the steamer. My mom and aunt’s all make it too, my grandfather’s favourite! All the ingredients are probably already in your kitchen – sugar, milk, eggs – so let’s get cracking!
4 or 5 tablespoons of sugar to caramelise
3 eggs (medium size)
3 more tablespoons of sugar
500 ml or half a litre of warm (not hot) milk
1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla essence (which I didn’t have so I used grated nutmeg instead)
A large steamer with a tight lid and a smaller bowl that will hold all the ingredients and fit inside the steamer bowl
Put 4-5 tablespoons of sugar in the smaller bowl and melt on a low heat. I used a few drops of water at the start to make sure I didn’t burn the caramel. Caramelise till deep golden amber (not carbon black!). Take off the heat and swirl the caramel around the bowl to coat the base and sides. Set aside.
Beat 3 eggs till frothy and fluffy. Add the remaining sugar, vanilla essence or grated nutmeg, and warm milk. Mix well. Strain this mixture into the caramel coated bowl, to get rid of any undissolved bits of egg or sugar. Fill the steamer with water and turn on the heat. Place the small bowl into the steamer and close the lid. My steamer bowl lid happened to be glass so it was fun to be able to watch what was going on inside! Once the water is at a rolling boil and you can hear the little bowl rattling and dancing inside, turn the heat onto simmer or very low, and let it steam for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave it to cook in the residual steam for an additional 5 minutes. Open the steamer lid and use a toothpick or butter knife to stab the custard and see if it’s cooked. If it comes out clean, the custard is perfectly done. Don’t over cook it or it’ll lose its silky consistency and get grainy. Let it cool to room temperature and pop in the fridge to chill, ideally overnight.
Once it’s cold, slide a butter knife around the edges of the bowl to loosen it up. Cover the bowl with a deep plate and flip it over, gently but quickly. Release the bowl and voila, there’s a beautiful golden topped custard staring up at you from a little lake of molten caramel! Comfort food at its best, guaranteed to cheer up any sick patient! N was lucky to get a couple of helpings though, as we gobbled up the rest!