Crema Catalana, flan, creme brulee… there’s something about a creamy custard topped with caramel that is universally irresistible. Purin is Japan’s take on the classic pairing and is incredibly popular. You can even find Purin for sale in convenience stores. It’s one of my favorite desserts for entertaining because it is entirely make ahead, uses just five very common pantry ingredients, and I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t love its interplay of almost burnt caramel and silky vanilla custard. If you’ve been wondering what to serve for dessert this holiday season, this is it!
Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for new grocery items. And I really wanted to try out these heirloom blue eggs, which are my latest Costco find. I tell myself that it’s good research, but really, I need to work on my impulse purchases. Oh well, at least it’s edible. But whether you’re using special eggs (look at the orange yolks on these things!) or plain old workhorse eggs, you won’t be disappointed. So let’s get to it.
Purin is All About the Caramel!
A new season of the Great British Baking Show just dropped and I am so looking forward to another sweet and satisfying season. Do you love it too? One of the things that cracks me up is when the pressure and stress start to wear on the contestants and something that they do all the time, suddenly turns into a fiasco. I’m looking at you caramel.
And I say to myself and the TV screen, why do they always make it dry? Granted it is a little faster and we know that time for them is always an issue. But starting the caramel with water is foolproof. I have never burned it in the pan. And for those of you who may not have made caramel before, it would be my recommendation to do it this way because it’s stress free. Cooking the sugar with water gives it a buffer since the sugar doesn’t come into direct contact with the pan. So no intimidation factor here and now you too are on your way to a GBBS success story.
Making caramel is easier than you may think, and I’ve broken down the steps for you. I start by putting a large bowl of cool water by the stovetop that I use to stop the cooking process when the caramel is done.
Up until it starts boiling, you can stir, although it’s not really necessary. I usually stir the sugar until it’s melted and then leave it alone. However, once it starts boiling, you absolutely must leave it be! Stirring at that point can make the caramel seize; the sugar hits the cold part of the pan and re-crystallizes which results in a grainy finished product. Just lower the heat and keep a close eye so you can watch the color change.
I like a dark, almost bitter caramel. I love the complexity it adds to my Purin, and the contrast with custard is unmatched. This is a matter of taste and is somewhat controversial because the GBBS would definitely call my caramel burnt. But Asians in general like less sugar than others and I like that bitter contrast between the custard and the caramel sauce. When I buy Japanese Purin, the caramel sauce always has a darker color and a more bittersweet smoky flavor.
For those of you who prefer a purely sweet caramel, remove it from the heat before it gets as dark. Once removed, immediately put it in the bowl of water to stop the cooking. It only needs a second or two. If you leave it in the water bath for too long, the caramel will start to harden and it will make pouring it into the cups difficult. A quick solution if this happens is to gently reheat the caramel over low heat until it’s a loose liquid again.
Then carefully pour the caramel into small baking-safe cups and let the cups cool while you prepare the custard.
Now that the caramel is done, it’s time to make the custard. This is a very straightforward custard recipe. Like a lot of Asian desserts, it isn’t cloyingly sweet and loaded with sugar nor is it incredibly rich. Whole milk gives it the perfect richness but you can absolutely swap some of the whole milk with heavy cream or half and half for more decadence if you wish. (I have on occasion (cough cough) attempted to clear out my fridge of leftover amounts of dairy by mixing it up. This is a very forgiving recipe.)
And again, I marvel at my golden orange egg yolks. Come on, you wouldn’t be tempted to try these blue eggs?
You will need to put the custards into a deep baking dish as they will be cooking in a water bath. A water bath is often used to bake fragile foods, like cheesecakes and custards, as the water gently and evenly cooks the foods that would otherwise overcook in the oven. I carefully pour boiling water around these custards. The trick to getting the most evenly baked custards with no cracks is to use hot water. Custards are particularly temperature sensitive so every little step is important.
You only need the water to come up about a third of the way up the cups. Gently place the custards on the middle shelf of the oven and bake.
Cool the custards to room temperature (I just turn off the oven and open the oven door) and then refrigerate them for at least 2 hours. You can actually make them 2-3 days ahead of time. Reason 46982645 Purin is the ideal holiday dessert.
These Purin can take a little work to get out, and there is no shame in serving them in the containers you baked them in. Not only can you save water by washing fewer dishes, but also save yourself some frustration!
Pro tip: A trick we use in the restaurants is to bake them in foil cups. Then when you flip them over, you pierce the bottom of the foil cup with the tip of a sharp knife. The small air pocket you’ve just created will force the custard to drop onto the little serving plate. Easy peasy.
I hope you add Purin to your holiday table this year. Or better yet, make it today and treat yourself instead! It’s so easy, why wouldn’t you? While this post focuses on the purity and elegance of the eggs, you can easily spike the custard with a couple tablespoons of instant espresso, some orange zest, or a teaspoon of almond extract. Once you’ve made it, you’ll see a whole range of possibilities.
I am sure it will become a dessert you return to again and again. Let me know what you think by commenting here, and of course tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 Tablespoons water
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 6 Tablespoons sugar
- Set the oven to 300 and move the oven shelf to the middle.
- Bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat and then turn the heat to low. You will use this to cook the custard.
Make the caramel:
- Have a bowl with cool water ready on the side. Using a small heavy bottom saucepan, add the sugar and water and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, mixing only until the sugar has dissolved.
- You can stir the sugar and water until it comes to a boil and then do not touch it or it may seize and re-crystallize.
- Lower the heat to medium high and continue boiling for 4-5 minutes. The sugar water will first start to thicken and then turn light golden, then amber, and then dark amber. Once the sugar starts to get to the medium amber stage, lower the heat to medium. There is so much heat building in the pan that it will move from amber to completely black quickly. Once it is dark brown, gently place the pan into the bowl of water to stop it from cooking any more.
- Portion the caramel evenly into 6 small (5-6 ounce cups) and set aside.
- (I like a dark brown caramel which contrasts with the sweet custard. If you prefer a less bitter caramel, take the pan off the heat and dip it into the water bowl when it is a deep amber color.)
- Combine the egg yolks, eggs, sugar, and milk in a large bowl and combine with the whisk.
- Pour the mixture through a colander to remove any bits of coagulated egg and then divide the mixture into the cups.
- Place the custards into a baking pan at least 2 inches deep.
- If you’ve beaten a lot of air into the mixture, you can use a lighter and lightly touch any bubbles with the flame to remove them. (This is an extra step I don’t usually take. Laziness is acceptable in home cooking!)
- Put the baking pan into the oven and gently pour the hot water into the baking pan. The custards should have water about ⅓ of the way around the cups.
- Cook the custards for 45-60 minutes. (The time will depend on the material of your cups and also if you’ve decided to use fewer large cups or more smaller sized cups.)
- The custards are set when the center is no longer liquid but still wobbly and jiggles.
- Carefully take the custards out of the oven and gently set them on the counter. Let them cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating. (If you’re nervous handling a pan of boiling water, you can also turn off the heat and open the oven door, letting the pan cool off a little before taking it out of the oven.)
- Let the purin chill for a minimum of 2 hours. You can either serve them straight from the container or unmold them onto a dish.
- To unmold, run a thin butter knife or small offset spatula around the edge of the custard. Place a small serving dish on top of the mold and flip the custard over, holding onto both pieces.
- If that doesn’t work, try it again with a little more vigor. You can also try wedging the knife/spatula against the side of the custard and coaxing it out onto the plate. For this to work, place the plate on the counter and hold the custard upside down near the plate while running the knife along the custard. You want to create an air pocket so the custard will release.*
*If un-molding the porin sounds like too much work, just serve the custards in the cups with a spoon and a smile.
*The purin custards keep in the fridge for several days. Keep them covered until ready to eat.
Keywords: vanilla, custard, dessert, sweets, japanese, make ahead, holiday, xmas