Did you just say this only suspiciously looks like Caramel Custard?? Aaww, you break my heart!! Crème Renversée au Caramel aka Caramel Custard it is!! From Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. I know you are wondering why the caramel looks like it has been using fairness cream. I don't remember making caramel before but thought no big deal about it - till I made three attempts and did not get it perfectly right (I really don't want to admit it). Now what can be such a big deal about heating sugar and water together and then taking it off the heat at just the right nano second? Take it off a few seconds too early and the caramel may not be that beautiful amber color. A few seconds too late and it may burn or harden it or both. Somewhere in between and maybe something like in the pictures here will be the outcome.
So I (naturally) forgive and also laud myself (very naturally) for all the 3 attempts. And yes I have to mention the soak, wait and wash struggle to get the hardened caramel off the ramekins and the hopefully right sized tin. I should not go wrong with the custard as I have successfully made it a few times. Just go on, I tell myself. At last, salvation for my waiting weighed eggs and yolks. The color of the offending caramel is forgotten as I take a spoonful of the velvety smooth baked custard with some sweet caramel syrup for company. Mmm... Julia Child is not Julia Child for nothing ...
Caramel Custard is basically custard baked in caramel swirled ramekins or cake tin or charlotte molds. to give a topping of caramel liquid to the custard when inverted. Either as individual servings or a convenient large sized one, the dessert looks impressive (don't go by my pictures, you won't go wrong with the caramel I know!). Its even more convenient as you could make it ahead and allow it to chill. The dessert will taste just as good - even in the unlikely event that you mess up the caramel as I did. The dessert lends itself to variations like coffee, coconut, cardamom, orange to name a few.
As I learn, one of the most important things for making a good custard is whole milk and not skimping on the eggs or number of yolks in an attempt to lower the calories or make it smell less eggy. Tempering the eggs (heating the eggs by adding the hot milk very gradually) slowly without curdling the eggs and baking the custard for the right amount of time in a water-bath is important as over baked custards will be rubbery and you will miss out on one of the best wow factors, the silky texture.
The recipe is adapted from Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, she has adapted it from Le Cordon Bleu. Recipe as found on The New York Times
Crème Renversée au Caramel (Caramel Custard)
For the caramel
Sugar - 1/2 cup
Water - 1/4 cup
For the custard
Sugar - 2/3 cup
Whole milk - 2 cups - 480 ml
Vanilla extract - 1 ½ teaspoons ( I used half a vanilla bean)
Eggs - 2, large - 98 grams
Egg yolks - 4, large - 72 grams
Lets get ready. A 4 cup charlotte pan is used in the original recipe. I have used 4 half cup ramekins and a 7'' round pan which gave me short custards. I think I will use a 7'' round tin next time I bake this. You will need a bigger deep pan in which you will be placing the tin with custard. The water needs to come to 2/3 the height of the pan. A kitchen towel to place inside the bigger tin, mittens, a good medium sized saucepan to make the caramel in. Have a large pot of water to heat to a gentle simmer ( you will be pouring this water around the tin, the water should stay at a low simmer at all times; do not let it boil or the custard will overcook). Have another pot full of tap water to immerse the bottom of the saucepan with the caramel. Have a fine meshed strainer suspended over a medium sized bowl to strain the custard into. 2 silicon spatulas to scrape the custard and caramel.
Procedure: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees. Place the kitchen towel in the bigger pan and spread it evenly.
To make the caramel : In a small saucepan, combine ½ cup sugar with ¼ cup water. Bring to a boil over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to high and cook, without stirring, until the syrup turns a light caramel color. It will boil furiously and you can see the edges change color. Remove the saucepan from the heat and dip the bottom into cold water to stop the cooking ( I did dip once and it was a beautiful color but hardened very quickly) Pour the caramel into a 4-cup charlotte mold, and tilt so that it covers the bottoms and sides. Let cool.
In a small saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, (using a whisk) beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until blended. Remember, we are not whipping up a volume here, just blending. Whisking constantly, pour the hot milk very gradually, almost as a trickle into the egg mixture. Let rest for a few minutes, then strain ( I strained immediately). Pour the custard into the caramel-coated mold or pan or ramekins. (The custard will not rise so you could pour a little less than up to the rim)
Place the tin or ramekins in the larger pan. Add the gently simmering water to come about two-thirds up the sides of the mold. Using mittens, carefully transfer the pan to the oven, this is a tricky part as the pan will be very hot and have hot water in it. Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes if baking in a charlotte mold. I baked till the custard had a slight wobble to it, think jelly. If you gently shake the tin the custard must have a slight wobble to it. Do not let the custards cook till completely firm. Keep the custard in the baking pan until the water cools. Remove from the pan to finish cooling. You could serve it at room temperature or chilled. I like it chilled. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours or better still overnight to chill. To serve, run the tip of a knife around the top of the custard to loosen it. Invert a serving platter over the mold and quickly turn it over again. Carefully remove the mold and serve.
This baked custard will surely be made again along with the other custard variations Creme Anglaise and Chocolate Pots De Creme. If you would like to make a start with custards, Creme Anglaise or home made custard sauce would be a great start.
Read Julia Child's account of how she was asked to write down the recipe for Crème Renversée au Caramel as part of her exam at Le Cordon Bleu, but she could not, how she whips it up in a fury later... and eats!