Author Notes: This is a very forgiving recipe—if you like it, you’ll soon be eyeballing all the ingredient measurements. I added a chocolate option at the end, although I confess I’ve never made it. I got addicted to crème caramel as a little girl: we lived in Egypt for a while, at a time when reliably fresh milk was hard to come by (we’d occasionally have water buffalo milk as a special treat). We hated powdered milk, so my mom used to make this all the time to make sure we got enough calcium. The basic proportions for the custard are from the Mystery Chef, who calls for baking it in the oven in a bain-marie, which is how I, following my mom, did it for years. It takes forever, especially if you use nonfat milk. Then, at some point after I acquired my first pressure cooker (read: convinced Mom to part with her backup one, made in France in the 70’s), I learned (from Mom, who’d never tried it herself) that you could make crème caramel in it. Sure enough, the little recipe pamphlet (simply titled “Les Bonnes Recettes”—if I ever publish a cookbook I’m definitely calling it “Good Recipes”) that came with the cooker had some guidelines, and I had a life-changing experience. It’s so easy! So quick! The texture is so creamy and luscious, even if you’re using skim milk! Why would anyone do it any other way??? —ody
eggs (add one extra egg if doubling the recipe, for 9 total)
cups skim milk
cups sugar for custard
cup sugar for caramel
- Find a baking dish that fits inside your pressure cooker. You will need to be able to lower the filled dish into the cooker, cover it with a lid or a plate, and close the pressure cooker lid. You will also need enough water in the cooker to reach about halfway up the sides of the dish: all of these logistics are best sorted out before the dish is full of hot liquid custard! Figure out the capacity of the dish and multiply the ingredients accordingly, then butter the dish. (The doubled recipe—6 cups milk, 9 eggs—*just* fits into my 2.5-quart round Corningware dish, which in turn *just* fits into my pressure cooker.)
- Set the milk to scald, in a pan that can hold the same volume as your chosen baking dish. Keep an eye on it as you’re prepping the caramel. Once scalded, stir in the salt and custard sugar and leave it to cool.
- While the milk is a-scalding, melt the caramel sugar: put the sugar into a skillet over high heat. Once it starts to melt, keep the sugar moving by swirling and shaking the pan (there’s a balance between letting it get hot enough to melt and keeping it moving so it’ll caramelize evenly—you’ll get the hang of it very quickly). Keep doing this until the sugar is an even amber color. If you like a strong caramel taste, keep going until it’s a dark amber. I like mine almost molasses-colored.
- Moving quickly, turn off the heat and pour the caramelized sugar into the bottom of your baking dish. Ideally, you want an even layer at the bottom, but it’ll all melt into the custard anyway. I like to tip the dish and pour into the higher side, but BEWARE: the sugar is very hot; don’t touch the bottom of the dish! (A friend of mine once cracked a pyrex dish with melted sugar.) Set aside to cool.
- Beat the eggs thoroughly in a vessel of your choice. (A large bowl if you don’t want to use the scalding pan to mix the custard, the measuring cup you used for the milk if you don’t want to dirty more dishes, etc.)
- Once the milk is scalded and slightly cooled AND the caramel has had 5-10 minutes to cool, combine the sugared & salted milk with the beaten eggs and the vanilla, pour into the caramel-bottomed dish.
- Add some water to your pressure cooker if you skipped that part of step 1. Lower the filled baking dish into your pressure cooker. (If space is tight and you’re just holding on with your fingertips, moving your wrists in towards each other will help you get a better grip). Cover the baking dish with a lid or a plate, and seal up the pressure cooker.
- Cook for the right amount of time, which will vary depending on your pressure cooker. A good rule of thumb is to put it on high until the water in the cooker is boiling (you should hear clanking, as the dish bounces in the boiling water—fear not, it’s boiling at such a low temperature that the custard won’t curdle), turn the heat down to medium, and set the timer for 15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, release the pressure, remove the pressure cooker lid, and let the whole thing cool enough for you to remove the baking dish. N.B.: the custard will NOT look cooked—it will be jigglier than you’re used to. Unless something went very wrong with your pressure, it should be cooked. Just let it cool.
- Gluttons like myself spoon the custard out while still warm. Others may wish to wait until it’s fully cooled (give it at least a couple of hours, so the caramel at the bottom has a chance to dissolve completely into yummy sauce), run a knife around the edge, invert a serving dish over the baking dish, hold the dishes together tightly and flip them over so the custard falls into the serving dish, presenting its beautiful brown top to your guests.
- FOR CHOCOLATE CUSTARD: dispense with caramel steps and instead stir 2 oz. melted bitter chocolate into the custard mixture. (Mystery Chef says to pour caramelized sugar into the scalded milk, stirring until it’s all dissolved, and then add chocolate as well, but that sounds like a little much to me.)