Crème Brûlée in France, Crema Catalana in Spain, Trinity Cream or Cambridge Burnt Cream in England and Leite Creme in Portugal. Historical dessert and traditional in so many European households and beyond, the origins date back to the seventeenth century. It is known that the dessert was first recorded in the Chef Francois Massaliot’s cookbook, but others claim its creation, including some voices that attributed the origins to the Romans. The same basic concept on each of the mentioned countries, yet different ways to prepare this delicacy. And on top of this, the varieties are innumerable.
The ingredients are the most simple one can find: milk or cream, eggs, sugar and infused spices. However, to transform this simplicity into a fancy marvel, it is crucial to choose the best products. Today I bring to you the classic Leite Creme. It differs from the Crème Brûlée because it uses milk instead of cream (yay for fewer calories!) and some corn starch to help the thickness. The infused flavors are cinnamon and lemon peel. It took me three attempts to achieve perfection in the right creaminess, so this is how I like it. Certainly, if you ask ten people for their own recipe they’ll give you ten different preparation methods.
The advantage of the Portuguese recipe compared to the French, is that it’s made in the stove very quickly instead of a long baking time. From my childhood, I remember how easy it was to put it together, therefore so many times was made. Sometimes, we used to do an even faster version of this sweet, omitting the eggs and the lemon peel. It was common to eat it right out of the stove, still warm, sprinkled with ground cinnamon. So basic that a child could do it. I did it as a child for myself time and again.
Appreciated worldwide, the velvety cream has a strong presence in the Minho Region in Portugal where each family keeps the secret of its confection. Independently of its origin, truth is the original recipe has evolved. The silky texture remains the most important feature, but some innovative gastronomes introduced ingredients like coconut or Porto wine. The rest is history. Me? I like the diversity of the recipes, but the traditional aroma of cinnamon and lemon allied to the luscious milky cream is a keeper. Forevermore.
Leite Creme (Portuguese Milk Custard)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10-12 minutes
6 egg yolks
3 Tbsp corn starch
3/4 cup (170 grams) pure cane sugar
4 cups (1 liter) whole milk
4 lemon peels of 1 organic lemon
1 cinnamon stick
turbinado, demerara, muscovado or pure granulated cane sugar for the burnt sugar caramel.
In a large bowl of a stand or hand mixer, whisk the egg yolks with the corn starch until creamy. Add the sugar and whisk until pale yellow. Gradually, add the milk and whisk until well combined (with a spatula scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and whisk again).
Transfer the milk mixture into a sauce pan, add the lemon peels and cinnamon stick and put on the stove over medium-low heat. Let the mixture thicken, stirring constantly, for about 10 to 12 minutes, until very creamy.
Remove from heat, discard the lemon peels and cinnamon stick, and pour into 7 oz ramekins or other serving bowls of your preference. Let cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.
If you prefer the top of the custard with more liquid caramel instead of crispy, burn the sugar on top in advance and set a while in the fridge until the caramel custard starts to soften.