Holiday Baking: Carla Lalli Music's Coffee Crème Caramel

Dec 11, 2019

If you’re anything like us, you spent most of your free time in 2019 watching the excellent cooking videos put out by the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen. While it would be hard for us to pick a favorite Bon Appetit chef -- how can you compare them, really -- we do have a special place in our heart for our old friend, Carla Lalli Music, and the excellent cookbook she released this year, Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes to Make You a Great Cook. We gobbled it down between episodes of Back to Back Chef, cooked from it over and over again as the seasons turned, and this holiday season we’re sharing our favorite dessert from the book -- Coffee Crème Caramel.

We made the recipe using our classic Hair Bender blend, but feel confident that it would be delicious with just about anything on our menu. The finished result is an elegant, shockingly simple dessert that will impress your grandmother OR coworkers this holiday season. Earlier this month, we got to ask Carla a couple of questions about holidays at her place; the recipe follows.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters: What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Carla Lalli Music: We're Italian, and my mom hosts an epic Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, which happens to be my first born's birthday. We eat until the wee hours, then open presents and drink grappa and have to roll ourselves home. Now that my son's a teen, he isn't exactly dying to spend his birthday with his parents and grandparents and a bunch of other septuagenarians. A couple of years ago we moved the Feast to the 23rd so he can have his birthday day back, and we get a much-needed recovery day before Christmas.

SCR: What's your holiday coffee routine? Spike it with Baileys? After dinner decaf? Caffeine IV all day long?

CLM: I love a café au lait, all winter long. But I also love love LOVE Kahlua, and I will make a Kahlua and cold brew in a hot second if you dare me to. [ed note: we hung out with Carla recently and she did... exactly what she promised. See below.]

SCR: Tell us a little bit about how you developed this recipe.

CLM: I combined two of my favorite childhood memories to make my Coffee Crème Caramel. My mom made crème caramel a lot for dinner parties or special occasions when I was growing up, and the combination of a super-silky vanilla custard with dark, slightly bitter caramel was such a treat. My other favorite dessert was coffee ice cream —specifically Haagen Dazs, so for my rendition, I combined the two. The custard is flavored with coffee beans and a little lemon zest, and I take the caramel really dark. Love this recipe!

Coffee crème caramel

For the coffee custard
¼ cup coffee beans, roughly chopped
2½ cups whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
Wide strip of lemon zest
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 large eggs

For the caramel
⅔ cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Make the coffee custard
In a small saucepan, combine coffee beans, milk, sugar, and lemon zest. Scrape in vanilla seeds; add pod. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Immediately turn off heat, cover pan, and let steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place a 1½-quart loaf pan inside an 11 × 13-inch baking dish, roasting pan, or other ovenproof dish with sides that are at least as high as loaf pan. You can also use a 9-inch pie plate set inside of a roasting pan. This is the setup for the water bath.

Make the caramel
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, lemon juice, and ¼ cup water. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved, 4 to 5 minutes. Do not rush this step; if liquid boils before sugar is dissolved, syrup may crystallize and never darken, and you’ll have to start over. When sugar is dissolved and syrup has gone from cloudy to clear, stop stirring and increase heat to medium. Cook, swirling pan every few minutes and giving caramel your full attention, until syrup begins to darken and gradually goes from amber to deep mahogany.

When you see wisps of smoke rising from dark golden-brown caramel, immediately pour into prepared loaf pan. Quickly tilt pan back and forth to coat surface and a bit of the way up the pan’s sides with caramel. Return pan to larger dish.

Finish the custard
Bring a kettle of water to a boil for the water bath. Break eggs into a medium bowl and whisk just to break them up a bit.

Reheat coffee mixture until steaming and then, whisking constantly, add it to the eggs. Whisk until mixture is completely combined, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into caramel-lined loaf pan. Pour hot water into larger baking dish to come halfway up sides of loaf pan and transfer to oven. Bake until custard is mostly set but jiggles a bit at very center when you jostle pan, 1 hour 25 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.

Let cool in water bath for 30 minutes, then remove, cover pan with a sheet of plastic wrap, and refrigerate crème caramel until completely set, at least 4 hours and up to 2 days

To unmold, run a thin-bladed knife around edges of dish, making sure tip of knife stays flush against bottom of dish. Invert a large plate over dish, then quickly flip. Slowly lift off dish; crème caramel should slide out. If not, tap plate against countertop until it does.
Serve in slices with caramel spooned over.

Reprinted from Where Cooking Begins: Uncomplicated Recipes To Make You a Great Cook. Copyright © 2019 by Carla Lalli Music. Photographs copyright © 2019 Gentl and Hyers. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.