Hello, friends. so, here’s a question/topic I received via email a few days ago:
I read your blog article about Puddings/Custards and found it very informative. I was wondering if you could touch on the comparison between Pots de Creme, , and Creme ( ) and explain the differences. What makes them more Creme Caramel more jello like? How could you enhance that? Add more eggs/starch? Thanks.
Good questions, all.
Most classic custards, both stirred and still/baked have the same general set of ingredients: eggs, dairy and sugar being the three most prevalent. The only differences among the custards are in a)using yolks versus whole eggs, b)the amount of fat in the dairy (whole milk, half and half, heavy cream), c)any additional components, such as caramel for crème caramel/flan or a crunchy layer of caramel for crème brûlée.
Let’s look at the similarities, first. All custards that are to be baked must not have thickened (fully cooked) before baking. If they are thick and pudding-like when they go into the oven, the best you can hope for is forming a skin on top of creme Anglaise. Not so great. Also, baked custards are generally served chilled. Chilling mutes the sweetness as well as some of the egginess. As well, butterfat in the dairy will firm up in the fridge, adding to a creamy mouthfeel. All baked custards not containing an additional starch (as in New York cheesecake) or not in a crust (ditto, cheesecake) are baked at a very low temperature in a water bath. The water ensures a moist cooking environment and can help minimize browning and Nasty Skin Formation. The water also keeps the sides of the ramekins/baking pan at no more than 212F. This, in turn, helps to keep the baking custard from boiling. If boiling Happens, you’ll end up with a curdled custard. Sweet scrambled eggs. Gross. Also, you’ll end up with wee bubbles all up the sides of your custard. This is the first thing I look for in a flan when I order one for dessert. If there are bubble holes up the sides, it is almost guaranteed to be overcooked and curdled. Again, gross.
And now, on to the differences. First, texturally. Pots de crème are the most loosely set of the baked custards. That’s why they’re baked in cool little lidded pots. If you tried to turn it out of the baking tin, you’d just end up with a thick-but-flowing creme anglaise type deal all over your plate. On the other end of the firmness spectrum, you’ve got crème caramel, which is sturdy enough to turn out so its lovely caramel sauce can run down and pool most alluringly on the plate. The Turnoutability of a custard is directly related to the ratio of eggs to dairy as well as to the amount of sugar. The more sugar in the custard, the less firm it will be and the longer it will take to bake.
Custard Formulae per 8oz of dairy
(these proportions are not set in stone–you’ll find all kinds of formulae out there. Hopefully, it goes without saying that salt and vanilla (at least) go in each of these custards)
- crème brûlée=8 oz heavy cream+1.5 oz sugar+3-4 yolks. With its makeup of all yolks and heavy cream, crème brûlée is the richest of the baked custards.
- pots de crème=8 oz half and half+3 oz sugar+3 yolks. While the pots de crème contain the same number of egg yolks as the crème brûlée, the extra sugar makes them less set. Pots de crème are slightly less rich than crème brûlée because of the use of half and half instead of heavy cream.
- Crème caramel=6 oz milk+2 oz heavy cream+1.5 oz sugar+1 egg +2 yolks. The use of whole egg helps the custard to set firmly while the extra two yolks lend to the richness. There is less butterfat in crème caramel because 3/4 of the dairy is in the form of whole milk.
As to the question about the crème caramel being more Jello-like, I’m going to go with the wiggly factor. It’s wiggly because it’s firmly set. If it weren’t firmly set, it wouldn’t cut cleanly or wiggle when you hit it with a spoon. It would just kind of slump. You can enhance the firmness by adding using some sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk for part of the dairy. This mainly has to do with mouthfeel, but I am a Fan, so I usually make mine with some SCM. You can up the whole eggs to get a firmer set, but you do run the risk of getting a rubbery flan, so I say err on the side of caution. Adding some starch to your mix can inhibit curdling, thus lending a smoother texture. If you use a water bath and bake at 250-275-ishF, that shouldn’t be an issue, but if you want to take out some extra insurance, you can add just over 1/4 tsp cornstarch or tapioca starch for each cup of dairy.
If by Jello-like, Eric means the smoothness factor, then I’d increase the yolks a bit, by maybe just one per 8oz of dairy. The emulsifiers in the yolks lend a wonderful smooth, creamy mouthfeel.
So, Eric, I hope that helps.
And that’s all I have to say about custard right now. If you have anything to add, please have at it in the comments section.
Y’all have a lovely day.