Sweet and luscious custard enjoyed favor in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia long before French cuisine arrived on the scene. Made with coconut milk, duck eggs, and palm sugar, it was steamed rather than baked in a bain-marie, or water bath. The classic French crème renversée au caramel quickly found favor when French rule came to Vietnam, and was part of the country’s culinary repertoire by the time the colonial era came to an end. Some versions of banh ca ra men are enriched by a combination of milk and coconut milk, or several egg yolks in addition to whole eggs. You will need 8 custard cups or ½-cup ramekins, or small ovenproof glass bowls.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date
Five Ingredients or LessYes
Taste and Texturecreamy, juicy, sweet
Type of Dishdessert
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- 5 eggs
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 cups milk
To prepare the caramel, place the custard cups by the stove, ready to receive a dollop of hot caramel as soon as it’s ready. In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water and cook over medium heat, tilting the pan to swirl the liquid until the sugar dissolves and combines with the water to make a clear syrup, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and gently boil the syrup, lifting and tilting the pan now and then to cook it evenly, until the syrup turns golden, then light brown, and suddenly a whiskey or tea color. Quickly and carefully pour the caramel into the custard cups, dividing it evenly among them. Set the pan aside and tilt each cup to coax the caramel to cover the bottom. Don’t worry if it is uneven; it will all cook together into a beautiful crown. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. To prepare the custard, in a medium bowl, whisk or beat the eggs until foamy and then add the sugar. Beat well to dissolve the sugar, add the milk, and beat until well combined. Pour the custard into the custard cups, place them in a baking or roasting pan, and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Place in the oven and bake until the custard is firm around the edges and fairly set in the center, and the tip of a knife stuck in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully remove the cups from the pan of hot water, and place on a cooling rack. Cover and chill if serving time is more than 1 hour away, for up to 2 days.
Serve at room temperature or chilled. Very gently, loosen the edges of each custard with a table knife. Place a small serving plate upside down over the custard cup, and invert the cup so that the custard drops onto the plate, displaying its dark, caramel-infused crown and releasing a small pool of thin, delicious sauce.
2006 Nancie McDermott