Spanish Cream | March 9, 2017

Spanish Cream is an old-fashioned dessert. Growing up, my grandmother always had a bowl of it in her refrigerator whenever we had family get-togethers. She would serve it out of a big serving dish into very delicate cut-glass dessert bowls. I always love that she never dumbed down her presentation because we were children. To my recollection, none of the nine grandchildren ever broke a dish… but it was certainly risky. Manners were paramount in my grandmother’s house and we all took dessert pretty seriously.

My mother tells me that they often had Spanish Cream for dessert when she was growing up, so it must have been someone’s favorite. My sister LOVED it, but I thought it was awful! I always had to eat it because it was served, but boy oh boy, it was all I could do to get through dessert at the big table. You’re probably asking yourself, “If she hated it, why is this week’s blog about it and why would I want the recipe?” Good questions. Way to be engaged!

I am writing about it because the other day, I was having company and I needed dessert. As I was going through my admittedly disorganized recipe box, I came across my grandmother’s Spanish Cream recipe (in my mom’s handwriting) and thought it would be a nice change.

I just realized I haven’t told you what it is yet! Basically, it’s custard. It’s a super simple recipe – it’s not as labor-intensive (i.e. constantly stirring) as traditional custard, and it doesn’t require a torch like crème brûlée. You separate the eggs and use the yolks for the custard base, then beat the whites into stiff peaks and fold them into the warm custard. As the Spanish Cream sets, the custard settles and the whites rise to the top, creating two layers. The whites really add texture to the dessert. The custard is smooth and creamy, and the meringue adds a light and fluffy texture to the dessert. It’s a little “different,” but as a grown-up, I can say that it is very pleasant. To be fair, I never liked any kind of custard when I was little. I think it had to do with that fact that my sister loved it, so for me that was a turn off from the start.

I updated the Spanish Cream recipe by using real vanilla bean verses vanilla extract. You want to make sure you use pasteurized eggs because although you add the cooked custard to the egg whites, they probably don’t quite cook entirely. If you like flan, you will really like the Spanish Cream. They have a similar texture because of the addition of gelatin to the custard.

It always amazes me how food can transport you back in time… With each bite, I can see my grandmother’s dining room table perfectly – with my own little fancy-footed bowl of Spanish Cream.

Spanish Cream

YIELDS 6 to 8 Servings  |  PREP TIME  15 minutes + 6 hours chill time  |  PRINT PDF

  • 1 Tbsp unflavored gelatin
  • 2 ½ cups milk (whole milk is best)
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, with the beans scraped out (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
  • Let gelatin soak until soft in a ½ cup of milk. Pour the remaining milk plus the salt into a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until the scalding point. (The scalding point is when you can just see little bubbles forming around the edge of the pan.)
  • While the milk heats, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they form stiff peaks, then set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla. When the egg yolks are light and lemon colored, slowly add about 1/3 of the heated milk to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. It is really important to temper the eggs with the milk so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. The key is to add the milk in a slow, steady stream and to not stop whisking! I think the Tovolo 9” beat whisk is perfect for this step.
  • Transfer this egg yolk mixture to a double boiler over simmering heat and add the rest of the milk. Then add the sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture is thick and the custard can coat the back of a spoon. Take the custard off the heat and mix in the milk-soaked gelatin, stirring until completely dissolved.
  • Pour this slowly over the stiffly beaten egg whites and mix it well. You will have lumps of egg whites but that is ok. Pour this into dessert cups or one big serving dish or mold. Place it in the refrigerator until set – a minimum of 6 hours or overnight.
  • Serve with whipped cream, fresh fruit, or on its own!