When I was a child, going out for dinner was a special event. On the rare occasion when we did go out, I eagerly checked the menu for dessert. One of my all time favorite finales was crème caramel or flan or crème brûlée. I loved the silky texture, the caramel syrup and the subtle flavor of the custard. And it always seemed like such a rare treat. I think in those days (the dark ages of the late seventies and early eighties), it was considered very sophisticated and oh so continental. Certainly not something the American home cook would normally prepare.
However, in the spirit of making things that are personal favorites, (see Baklava as the Perfect End to a Poignant Meal) I have taken on a chocolate crème caramel (crème brûlée involves a small culinary blowtorch that I don't have and don't particularly feel compelled to purchase at the moment) and added cinnamon and cayenne pepper to give it a little more depth, interest and style (and to jump on the trendy spicy chocolate bandwagon).
This is a Mexican recipe I've altered by adding the cayenne and I usually serve it with fresh berries. It would also be delicious without the chocolate and cayenne as a "regular" crème caramel. Trust me, it's easy and impressive. But the main thing is, it's really, really good.
I adapted this recipe from Everyday Mexican, one of a series of fantastic cookbooks by Parragon Publishing. I use this book all the time, and also love Parragon's Berries, Baking,Thai and Perfect Cocktails. I pick up these books at Marshall's for literally $2.99 or $3.99 apiece. Also, as usual, I use lactose free skim milk in my baking and it works just fine.
Mexican Chocolate Crème Caramel
Generous 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
4 tbsp of water
2 1/2 cups milk
2 oz semisweet chocolate, grated (I often use Mexican chocolate that's already spiced with cinnamon and cayenne pepper)
If using plain semisweet chocolate, then add:
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a 4-cup soufflé dish in the oven to heat.
2. Place the granulated sugar and water in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, without stirring, and boil until caramelized. Pour into the hot dish, tipping it ot coat the bottom and sides. Let cool.
3. Place the milk and grated chocolate in a separate pan and heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate has dissolved.
4. Beat the eggs and superfine sugar together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Gradually beat in the chocolate milk, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Add the vanilla extract and strain into the prepared dish.
5. Stand the dish in a roasting pan and fill the pan with enough lukewarm water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until set. Let cool, then invert onto a serving platter. Let chill in the refrigerator before serving.