Some food scholars argue that crème brûlée, a rich, cool cream custard with a crisp topping of fresh toffee is a French invention. Others claim it came from Trinity College in Oxford, where the crest of the college was emblazoned into the top with a hot branding iron. Aurora, the mother of the owner of Bodega Pepe in Aragon, however, insisted that it was a Catalán invention.
It doesn’t matter who was first, what matters to me is that it is a great dessert. This is all about citrus and cinnamon and a smooth texture. In Spain, they have a special iron, in the shape of a coil, like a branding iron, which they use to burn the sugar on the top. We use a kitchen blowtorch — these are cheap, available from good food stores and give the best result. If you’re pyrophobic you can make the toffee crust by putting the crema catalana in a baking tray filled with chilled water to stop the custard from overcooking then placing them under a hot grill (broiler).
The day before serving, make the custard base. Start by peeling the lemon and the orange rinds into very wide strips, carefully avoiding any pith.
Pour the milk and cream into a large heavy-based saucepan. With a sharp knife cut open the vanilla bean lengthways and scrape the seeds into the milk and cream then add the bean and cinnamon.
Put over medium heat and watch the saucepan carefully. Just before the milk and cream boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes, to allow the flavours to infuse.
In a separate bowl, gently mix the sugar with the egg yolks. Remove
Pour the egg and cream mixture into a clean saucepan. Return to the stove over low–medium heat and gently
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