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26th Mar 2014

Food For Thought: A Short History of Crème Brûlée

One of our favourite desserts.

Una Kavanagh

We need food and drink to survive, to nourish us and to keep us in tip-top shape. But did you ever wonder about the history behind certain foods and drinks?

This week we’re bringing you the history behind the delicious Crème Brûlée.

One of the first recordings of this delicious dessert in its French form was in 1691 BUT its origin might not actually be French at all.

England, Spain and France all claim to have created the first version of the famous crème brlûée. However, food historians generally agree, that custards were very popular in the Middle Ages and in fact their popularity circulated across Europe – thus being impossible to trace custard’s actual roots.

When it comes to who actually was the first to caramelize the sugar on top, the details are also quite sketchy.

Early French versions of the dessert did not in fact burn the caramel like its modern versions, but rather placed a previously prepared caramel disc on top of the custard. However the term crème brlûée didn’t appear until the 19th century – it’s generally served cold.

Catalans claim that their ‘crema catalana’, that has a rich custard as the star, topped with caramelised sugar, is the origin of the dessert, though theirs seems to be recorded later in the 18th century. It’s served as a cold base with a hot topping.

Not only that but Trinity College in Cambridge also claim to be the birthplace, using burnt cream, where the college crest was burnt into sugar on the custard. Titled “Trinity Burnt Cream”, it’s said that a student came up with the dish in the 17th century, and the kitchens there are still well-known at making this famous dish. Their version in unsweetened and thicker.

Crème brûlée is a great example of classical cooking and well worth having in your dessert repertoire. It’s a delicate dish and though it may seem simple to prepare, it’s important not to be heavy handed with the blowtorch..


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