Easy Creme Caramel

Easy Italian vanilla creme caramel

Not a typical Italian recipe, creme caramel originally came from Spain. It is soft, creamy, and so easy to prepare with no unusual ingredients—just milk, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla.

Moreover, it is gluten free and less caloric than other soft desserts. In Italy these desserts—creme caramel, panna cotta, and creme brûlée—are called dolci al cucchiaio because you need a spoon to eat them. 

This is my own easy recipe, so follow it step by step for something to surprise your guests with or when you want some homemade goodness. In Italy, we usually prepare this delicious and elegant dessert for Sunday lunch. 

Is creme caramel the same as creme brûlée?

Actually, they are slightly different. Creme caramel is only made of milk, sugar, eggs and vanilla, whereas creme brûlée also contains cream and more eggs. Creme caramel is more compact and similar to a pudding. It is cooked in the oven in a bain marie or water bath, where the caramel is poured onto the bottom of the ramekins which are then turned upside down onto plates before serving. With the creme brûlée, the sugar is “burnt” with a kitchen torch, just before serving it in its ramekin, in order to obtain a kind of crunchy crust on top of the custard. 

Is Creme caramel the same as panna cotta?

No, panna cotta is a really delicious Piedmontese dessert composed of cream and gelatin which makes it compact. Caramel is only one of the many toppings you can garnish panna cotta with; for example, you can pair it with a berry sauce, chocolate, or strawberries among many possibilities. 

Easy Italian vanilla creme caramel
Easy Italian vanilla creme caramel

What is Creme caramel is made of?

It is a pudding, or budino, made of whole milk, but if you want it more compact and creamy you may add a little cream, large eggs, vanilla bean, sugar, and orange or lemon zest, all simple, plain ingredients. You need a ceramic or rectangular loaf pan or individual-sized ramekins and a baking tray for the water bath. You can buy the ramekins on Amazon or at Target. 

Easy Italian vanilla creme caramel

Easy Italian vanilla creme caramel

You are eating a soft dessert, and you realize that you can’t stop. You would love to eat it all up with your dessert spoon. Has this ever happened to you? 
Here you are! This recipe will please you! Some helpful hints will make it very easy to prepare. I got also this recipe at my pastry course.. I wish I had time to attend another pastry one! What beautiful classes! I have learnt a lot! I am looking forward to some new experiences. 
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Keyword creme caramel
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 8 people


Ingredients for the caramel

  • ¾ cups  of sugar (150g)
  • 3 tbsp of water (50g)
  • 1 tbsp of honey

Ingredients for the custard 

  • 2 cups of milk, or 1¾ cups (450g) of milk and 3.5 tablespoons (50g) of cream (½ liter)
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup of sugar (100g)
  • 1 tbsp of vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp of water
  • 1 lemon peel (one long strip)


  • In a heavy-bottomed pot, combine the sugar, water, and honey and bring them to a boil over medium-high heat (3-5 minutes). Cook but do not stir, until the mixture turns golden (1-2 minutes). Gently swirl the pot until golden (1-2 minutes). Remove from heat and swirl the pan until the sugar mixture is reddish-amber and fragrant (15-20 seconds). Swirl in 2 tablespoons of hot water and pour into single-serve ramekins or into an 8½ by 4½-inch (21cm x 11cm) loaf pan. 
  • While cooling, prepare the custard;
  • Add the vanilla and lemon or orange peel (easier in one long strip) to the milk and bring to a boil; 
  • Allow to cool;
  • Cut the vanilla bean into halves with a knife, scrape the seeds and put them into the milk with the lemon peel, a long lemon strip will be easier to remove than a lot of smaller ones. Bring it to a boil; 
  • Allow to cool.
  • Beat the eggs with the sugar and stir in the warm milk, a little a time;
  • Pour this mixture into the ramekins with the caramel;
  • Pre-heat the static oven to 300°F (150°C); cover the ramekins or loaf pan with foil and place them in a large, towel-lined baking pan or roasting pan. Once in the oven, fill the baking pan halfway with boiling water. Since you don’t want to pour any water into the ramekins, using a tea kettle is best. The towel keeps the ramekins or loaf pan from bouncing around. Check throughout the cooking process to make sure that there is enough water in the water bath (it should always be half full). This water bath method of cooking makes the cream compact but keeps it soft. At about 176°F (80°C) the egg yolk coagulates and compacts all the ingredients together.
  • Bake for 60-75 minutes, time enough for the ingredients to set evenly. Do the toothpick test: insert it into the center of the creme caramel. If it comes out moist but clean, it is done. Remove the foil and leave the ramekins or loaf pan in the water bath until they have cooled completely. 
  • Remove the pan, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and chill overnight for up to 4 days in the fridge. You should prepare it the day before in order to enjoy its full flavor.


You can’t have the cream caramel as soon as it is cooked, it must cool down. If you are lucky and you have a blast chiller, it will take very little time. I am not so lucky, and I cool it down on a cooling rank, and then I transfer it into the fridge overnight covered with cling film. You should prepare it the day before to enjoy its full flavor.

How can you serve creme caramel?

When cool (it takes about 2 or 3 hours in the fridge), turn it over onto a serving dish. To do this, run a thin knife around the edge of the ramekins or loaf pan; place a plate on top of the ramekin and turn it upside down with a rapid movement. Pour the caramel from the bottom over the creme. Serve immediately. You will definitely fall in love with this creamy melt-in-your-mouth dessert! 

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