Most of us have an irrepressible appetite for sweet things, and heavenly desserts exist solely to indulge it. As a young chef while learning my trade in the Kitchens of London, I always looked on the pastry section as almost another world. In those day’s, pastry chefs occupied a very special place in the pecking order of top kitchens and I always dreamed of learning and working with a great “pastissier”.
One day I got my chance and I still remember being absolutely spellbound by the delicacy and sheer artistry of the pastry chef’s work. It was a very tough and very steep learning curve for me but it was also one of the most rewarding periods of my professional life.
Desserts are designed to give pleasure; they should be food for the soul and sensuous by their very nature. They can arouse passion and be provocative, but they should also provide a structure and balance to a restaurant menu. Importantly, they are the final thing that you eat and it’s important to leave a great lasting impression and a wonderful, lingering taste.
At our restaurant, some of our desserts tend to be fairly complex constructions that require a lot of time and occasionally special equipment that are not usually found in domestic kitchens. One of recent creations is a starfish made from white chocolate & banana ganache.
Obviously when I’m cooking at home for family or friends, I want something that can be whipped up in a flash while still looking impressive and tasting absolutely delicious…something like a panna cotta, a simple apple tart or a delicious Crema Catalana.
The Crema Catalana is a kind of pastry cream or custard with a crunchy crust of caramelised sugar like a classic French Crème brulèe. Legend has it that its invention was much like many other desserts and due to an error.
Apparently, in a convent some nuns wanted to make a flan for a bishop who was going to visit them and when his eminence did not wait, the nuns caramelized the surface and served it slightly undercooked, thus giving rise to the burnt cream. Legend or not, the truth is that Catalan cream is a dessert that almost everyone likes for its softness and its crunchy touch of caramel. It’s such a simple dessert to make that you can also enjoy them at home.
Saffron, raspberry and orange blossom crema catalana
Saffron, fresh raspberries and orange blossom are prefect additions to Crema Catalana. The creams are traditionally thickened over a low heat, but I prefer to bake mine slowly in the oven to limit the risk of the eggs curdling. The creams should have a slight wobble when removed from the oven.
- 500ml milk
- 150ml cream
- 1 large pinch saffron
- 1 vanilla pod, split
- grated zest of 1 orange
- 2–3 drops orange blossom syrup
- 6 egg yolks
- 90g sugar
- 20 fresh raspberries, plus extra to
1 Preheat the oven to 90°C/200°F/gas mark 1⁄4.
2 In a heavy saucepan, heat the milk, cream, saffron, vanilla pod and orange zest and bring slowly to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15–20 minutes. Add the orange blossom syrup and strain through a fine sieve (strainer).
3 In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then stir in the cream mixture, until combined.
4 Pour the mixture into earthenware or ramekin moulds and place 5 raspberries into each mould. Bake for about 35–40 minutes until just set.
5 Do not be tempted to turn the oven temperature up, as they will curdle. Remove from the oven, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2–3 hours.
6 To serve, sprinkle with sugar and caramelise under a hot grill or with a culinary blowtorch. Garnish with fresh raspberries and serve immediately.
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