Crème Brûlée – A Tale of Three Countries

Crème brûlée is a rich, creamy custard dessert covered with a hard toffee crust. Its perfect texture and sweetness have made crème brûlée one of the best desserts of all time. The story about where it comes from has many different versions but we cannot be entirely sure which one is true.

It takes only a few ingredients to create this exquisite dessert that was first recorded in the 1690s. Chef François Massialot wrote the recipe of crème brûlée in a cookbook, in which the sugar topping was melted and burnt, similar to how it is done today, but we are not sure he named the dessert “crème brûlée”.

But was that really the first version of crème brûlée? It is hard to trace its true origins, mostly because custards were a popular dessert during the Middle Ages.

Three countries, England, Spain and France claim they created the very first version of Crème brûlée, but which one was the first ?

The majority of people think that crème brûlée is a French dessert, because its name is French. It was not until the 19th century that the name “crème brûlée” was established. According to the early French version of the recipe, a pre-made caramelised disk was placed on top of the custard, which is very different to contemporary recipes or other versions of the old ones.

According to the Brits, Trinity College at Cambridge University was the birthplace of Crème brûlée. A student came up with the idea of burning sugar on the custard during the 17th century but the College’s kitchen staff did not take his advice until after he became a fellow. The dish was named “Trinity Burnt Crème” and is still one of the most delicious dishes served in the college’s dining room.  Even though it is hard to prove that this actually happened, the crème brûlée served at Trinity College is quite different to the version we know, as it is unsweetened with a thicker crust.

The Spanish, have their own version of the story.  They claim that “Crema Catalana” is the original version of crème brûlée and it originates back to the 18th century, which is much later than the British and French versions.  However there are two significant differences in crema catalana. It is not cooked in a bain marie and it is often mixed with orange or lemon zest. The Spanish version is also served cold with a hot caramelised sugar crust.

Due to the popularity of custards as desserts and tart fillings since the Middle Ages, we cannot be sure of the actual origins of crème brûlée. Whether it’s French, British or Spanish, we love all variations of it and believe it is a delectable dessert. When it comes to Bel Canto’s variation, our chef serves our crème brûlée with basil and raspberries for extra flavour and aroma!