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Salted Burnt Caramel Custard is the luscious, silky, and intoxicating adult version of butterscotch pudding.
I bake these luxurious, silky Pots de Crème in clear glass jars so I can admire their dusky and seductive color.
So...does 'burnt' actually mean 'burned?'
'Burned' is the usual past tense of 'burn', but 'burnt' is common in many contexts when the past participle is used as an adjective. You are asking me what the heck that means, aren't you? It means both are right. And in the example of this recipe, the burn is intentional because we plan to take it only so far. The darker you can get the caramel without burning it, the better the end product will be. However, use caution as it will go from perfection to smoke alarms in about 3 seconds if you are not paying attention.
My love affair with burnt caramel began at a Christmas dinner party in 1999. We were just days before the start of a new century. There, I met a crazy dancing Latin guy named Apollo. He was somebody's nephew from San Francisco or some place, and definately NOT in his element in New Jersey. He made the night...interesting. This guy was cranked up. By the end of what can only be described as an exquisite meal, one which I am unsure he actually 'tasted' given all of the alcohol he consumed, he began shouting for joy when the servers brought out "caramel pudding" with whipped cream. In fact, the servers brought out an intricately prepared caramel custard with a thin layer of vanilla bean custard on the top. I'd never tasted anything like it before. And, I was hooked.
Love custard desserts? Want some additional equally as easy custard desserts to try?
Flakey Malden sea salt gives these tiny Pots de Crème a little edge - do not skip the flakey sea salt, TRUST ME.
For a long time after that crazy party, I skimmed through cookbooks looking for recipes every chance I got for whatever this masterpiece was that I'd eaten (this was before the internet really got going). And one day, there it was. Well, sort of. A recipe for Burnt Caramel Pudding which called for several cups heavy cream. This had to be it. From that day forward, I learned how to make caramel and experimented with one caramel custard recipe after another. None were ever quite right. The salted caramel custard recipe that I am highlighting in this method is the culmination of several methods and varying amount of heavy cream. This easy caramel custard recipe was born of years of experimenting and ruining pots.
The transformative effect of heat on sugar is the science behind Salted Burnt Caramel Custard, giving it its complex flavors.
I have never had the best luck with making caramel until just a year or two ago. Frankly, working with hot molten sugar is intimidating IF you have ever tried it and allowed it to go just a wee bit too far. In other words, burned. I will leave that part of the story at “loud smoke detectors.” I have practiced this method more times than I can recall. And last autumn, I nailed it. And I am making it so that you will nail it, too. In fact, these are easy.
By simply switching up the way in which I approach making the caramel, these now turn out great every time. This recipe makes 8 six-ounce portions. I like to see the rich color I am about to drive my spoon into, so I bake them in the smallest clear glass canning jars I own. If you have genuine glass Pot de Crème jars, by all means bust them out for this. Oh yeah, you’ll want to have them at the ready for this dessert, but plain old ramekins will work fine, too.
See if Salted Burnt Caramel Custard doesn't become a regular favorite at your house, because I'm just betting it does.
So, all of you candy making folks out there who have the caramel method down to a science, I pay homage to you. Why? Because I have done everything from out and out burning my sugar to boiling my sugar to the point that I seized a pan. And in a recipe that uses four cups of heavy cream and a mess of egg yolks, you do not want to mess the caramel up. Once you grasp this procedure you will not think twice about it. It will be like riding a bicycle. Second nature. I will not lie, there is one slightly tricky bit in the method. Caramelizing the sugar.
The sugar cooks until it gets lovely and tanned and a deep amber color, but not actually burned. It will take some time at medium heat on the stove, and you must watch it closely. Your nose “knows.” The darker the sugar mixture, the more flavor the custard will have, but if it becomes too dark and sinister, or you can smell burning, you have taken it too far. Patience and vigilance and trust will allow the science behind heat and sugar to do its thing.
How To Make A Caramel Custard
If there is one major ‘tip’ I can offer when assembling this recipe, it is to pay strict attention when adding your hot cream mixture to your whisked egg yolks. I begin with 1/3 to ¼ cup measure of the hot cream in one hand, my whisk over my eggs in the other. I SLOWLY begin to dribble the cream into the eggs while whisking as briskly as one hand will allow me. This is called ‘tempering the eggs’ or bringing the egg mixture up to the temperature of the cream mixture but without scrambling the eggs.
Custard can be baked in a bain-marie in various pretty jars, ramekins or custard pots. Some are sold individually, and other are sold as sets. I am especially partial to those with removable lids, shown here, so their contents are kept fresh in the refrigerator. The lids also make them useful for other tasks when not baking custard! Kitchen necessaries, click images for availability and pricing.
Pots de crème are little baked custards with a fancy name.
Following that first small amount whisked in, keep on with a SLOW STREADY STREAM, whisking always. In the end, if you find you have a few lumps, you can always strain your cream through a fine mesh sieve. If you follow what I am saying to do here, you will not find that necessary. Just add the hot cream slowly, while whisking, and you’ll be fine.
And I should point out, by the time you get ready to incorporate the cream, it will no longer be ‘hot’ per se, as I am going to instruct you to remove it from the heat while you make your caramel. At most, you will have warm cream. Test it on your wrist as you would a baby bottle; if it is tepid, reheat in the same small saucepan over medium heat for just a few minutes.
These uncomplicated “pots de crèmes” are just sweet enough, just salty enough, and just elegant enough...
Salted Burnt Caramel Custard is a little looser in texture than say pudding or flan. This recipe calls for 4 cups of cream. Once, when I was trying to impress a boy I had invited to dinner (oh so long ago!), I was short on cream and ended up preparing with only 3 cups. The outcome was thick and luscious versus silky and intoxicating. If you are a foodie, you just understood what I said. Translated, it turned out fine. These are baked in a low oven in a bain-marie or water bath, for about 1 hour.
Simply bake until the custard is just set, and you get that signature “jiggle” when you wiggle.
If you have a tea kettle, I recommend filling it so that when you are ready to add the bain-marie, you can do so right in front of your already heated oven. Trying to use the tap at the sink to fill the baking dish and then walk it to the oven will only result in something catastrophic. That, and the kettle is a clean pour. You need this so you do not end up with water in the custard cups!
Do not look for smooth tops when these emerge from the oven. They begin to acquire a quasi-crunchy film of bubbles toward the end of their bake and this is correct. Not necessarily pretty, but correct. Once you lightly salt them, it will not make a bit of difference. Cover the baking pan of custard cups with aluminum foil if you require them ultra smooth. I never do, but that's just me. Regardless, after you plunge your spoon in for that first taste, you will notice a silky and lighter in color caramel beneath that top layer. Just say it! HEAVEN!
- 2.5 quart baking dish
- 6 to 8 ramekins or glass Weck jars
Did you know that it’s super easy to print out a version of a half recipe or even a double recipe on Not Entirely Average? Hover over the serving size (highlighted in blue, it says 24 on this recipe) and then slide the the white line to the left to make less or to the right to make more. This "calculator" allows you to play until you get the number of servings you want. Easy.
Ingredients for Salted Burnt Caramel Custard
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 large egg yolks room temperature
- pinch Kosher salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- flakey sea salt I am using Malden sea salt
- Preheat oven to 300°.
- Prepare a 2.5 quart roasting pan or baking dish with 8 custard pots, oven-safe glass jars, or ramekins. Have a kettle of water ready by your oven.
- Place cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Whisk egg yolks, salt, and 2 Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl, set aside.
- Combine remaining sugar and 1/2 cup water in a heavy gauge metal pot, at least 3 quarts in size. Stir. You are stirring until the sugar is largely dissolved. The water will begin murky and end somewhat opaque. This could take up to 5 minutes of constant stirring.
- Set the pot on top of the stove. Make sure there are no sugar granules on the side of the pot. Use a damp pastry brush to brush down the sides of the pot to get all of the sugar crystals into the mixture.
- Turn the burner on to medium heat. Stir some at the beginning to make sure that all of the sugar is dissolving. Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is beginning to bubble, stop stirring. RESIST THE DESIRE TO STIR.
- Let the sugar and water cook together and work their science. The sugary mixture will graduate through the various sugar stages as the water evaporates and will eventually begin to caramelize. DO NOT REDUCE OR INCREASE THE HEAT. AGAIN RESIST THE DESIRE TO STIR. You can gently swirl the pan to achieve even caramelization if it looks to be necessary.
- Watch the pan closely as the process moves quickly. Remove the pan from the heat as soon as your caramelized sugar has reached its desired color. The darker you can get the caramel without burning it the better the end product will be, but use caution and use your nose to smell for "sweet" versus "burn."
- Slowly add warmed cream to caramel (mixture will bubble and steam vigorously), stirring constantly until very smooth.
- With a 1/4 measure cup of the caramel mixture, dribble slowly into the egg mixture while whisking constantly with your other hand to 'temper' the eggs. Whisk in the remainder of the caramel mixture into the eggs SLOWLY until all the caramel has been incorporated.
- Move the assembly close to your oven. Divide custard among jars or ramekins and replace into the roasting pan. Using the kettle, fill the roasting pan with water to come halfway up sides of ramekins. CAREFULLY LIFT THE ROASTING PAN INTO THE HEATED OVEN.
- Bake until custard is just set but still jiggly in the center, about 55 to 65 minutes. CAREFULLY remove ramekins from roasting pan and place on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes. Chill custards, uncovered, at least 3 hours. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt to serve.