I grew up in a world without cakes, pastries. Can you imagine that? But the reality was that when I was growing up, our country was poor. Supplies were extremely limited. Powdered milk and Milo was precious back then. We did not have any fancy American brands. Instead we had a lot of Russian products! I remember the “teddy bear” and “motherhood” milk powder and chocolate drink! Cake and pastries were not in my radar until I was 11 or 12.
My sweet world was limited to fruits from my grandparents’ trees (not that I complained about it), occasional ice popsicles in the Hanoi Old Quarter. Every day after a light but nutritious breakfast, mom always offered me with two options: yoghurt or crème caramel as snack. That was the part I most looked forward to! Yes, we learned them from the French, but the Vietnamese make absolutely delicious crème caramel and yoghurt. The serves were really tiny yet full of flavours. No low-fat yoghurt or custard please. A little fully flavoured sweet treats went a long way.
It may be strange, but my to-go crème caramel recipe is from Australian chef Neil Perry. It produces light and smooth custard which is not overly creamy, sugary or heavy. I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with flavours though – from the common vanilla to orange blossom and rose water. Gotta love them all. And yes, I will be writing up a post on home-made Vietnamese yoghurt. Soon. Promise!
In Vietnam, crème caramel is steamed on the stove because households do not have access to oven. I prefer bake them in a water bath in the oven. It’s easier to control temperature that way. I’ve used the pudding bottles here. Traditionally, crème caramel is cooked and cooled in small dariole moulds, then inverted onto serving plates. Based on a Neil Perry’s recipe.
Ingredients (for 6-8 smallish pudding bottles, around 1/4cup capacity)
500ml full-cream milk
50g caster sugar 1 tsp vanilla paste, or 1 tsp orange blossom water/rose water
3 egg yolks
Caramel 100g caster sugar, 60ml water
1. Heat the milk to warm, add sugar (50g) and stir to dissolve. Cool completely. For the caramel, bring the sugar and water to a gentle simmer, stirring briefly to dissolve the sugar. Do not stir once it´s simmering. Watch the sugar and water carefully, and simmer only until it starts turning a deep caramel colour. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour equal amounts of the caramel into the moulds/pudding bottles. Hold the moulds at the top of the rim and swirl to coat the moulds halfway up their sides with the caramel. Set aside.
2. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Lightly mix the eggs, yolks and vanilla (or other flavouring) in a bowl. Strain the milk mixture into the egg mixture, slowly whisking. Strain again and pour into the prepared moulds.
3. Lay a tea-towel on the bottom of a roasting tin. Place the moulds inside the tin and fill the tin with hot water until it reaches halfway up the sides of the moulds. Cover the tin with foil and place in the centre of the oven to cook for around 30 minutes, or until set (the time will vary according to the oven and the size of the moulds).
4. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.