What is Crema Catalana?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

If you enjoy crème brûlée, it may interest you to know that the dessert might have been first made in Spain and called Crema Catalana. The two recipes are very similar, though typically recipes for this baked custard include a little cornstarch or white flour for thickening. Though Crema Catalana may not be known as well as crème brûlée, it is well loved in the Catalan region of Spain. There is actually some dispute as to where these baked custards first occurred, and not only Spain and France, but also Germany lay claim to their invention.

Many Spanish cookbooks include recipes for crema catalana.
Many Spanish cookbooks include recipes for crema catalana.

Two differences between Crema Catalana and crème brûlée is that crème brûlée tends to rely on heavy cream, and is baked in a Bain Marie. Crema Catalana is simply oven baked and may use a mixture of milk and cream, perhaps explaining the need for adding a thickener like cornstarch. You probably shouldn’t make the dessert with low fat milk, especially if you’re not using any cream, as the extra fat in milk and cream help the dessert thicken. The reduction in cream, though, does create a slightly lighter dessert if you’re trying to cut calories.

Crema catalana may have originated in Spain, France or even Germany.
Crema catalana may have originated in Spain, France or even Germany.

You won’t cut that many; like crème brûlée, Crema Catalana receives a topping of sugar after it has baked and cooled in ramekins. The little individually sized desserts are then placed under a broiler, or under a torch to create a delectable burnt sugar topping. You will notice a slightly different taste to Crema Catalana, since it can be lightly flavored with a bit of lemon or orange zest, and may contain cinnamon.

This Catalan dessert is also called Crema de Sant Josep, after Saint Joseph the husband of the Virgin Mary in the New Testament. In Spain and in many other parts of Europe, Saint Joseph’s Day is celebrated on March 19th, and pays homage not only to the Saint but to all fathers. Crema Catalana is a very traditional dessert to serve on this day, which is treated much like the US Father’s Day.

You’ll find numerous recipes for Crema de Sant Josep or Catalana online, and in plenty of Spanish cookbooks. This tends to be an easy baked custard to make even for fledgling cooks. Many chefs suggest serving it just after you have created the burnt sugar when the custard is a little warm. This tends to make the spices and flavors more pronounced. However, many vouch for its deliciousness when the dessert is served chilled.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


The earliest record of "Trinity Burnt Cream" is from 1691, while "Crema de Sant Josep" can be found a thousand years before that.

It's been told that a fellow from Aberdeen who studied Don Quixote in Barcelona, came across this custard and took the recipe back to Cambridge where it was dismissed by the cooks for not being a British or French recipe. When this guy became an important professor, he managed to convince the chef, but the Catalan "Crema Cremada" had to be translated to the French "Crème Brûlée" or else the other professors wouldn't eat it.


origin is actually English - just look up "Trinity Burnt Cream."

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