Coffee Creme Caramel With A Twist

coffee creme caramel simple summer dessert

This classic Spanish custard is silky smooth, delicious, and sweet without being cloying.

The ingredients are simple: sugar, milk, and eggs seasoned with espresso and lemon.


This coffee creme caramel is firm but smooth. I love the addition of dark espresso beans and lemon zest steeped in the milk. I like to use whole espresso beans to give the custard a darkly complex flavor. It won’t taste like coffee per se. At least not in the same way it would if you used crushed coffee beans or pre-made coffee as part of the liquid. Of course, that could just be the inconsequential ramblings of a coffee fanatic. But hey, to each their own. I guess you’ll have to try it to find out if it tastes like coffee to you or not.

Anyway, on to the lemon zest. The first time I saw lemon zest added was in Carla Lalli Music’s recipe from her book Where Cooking Begins and it’s brilliant. If the espresso brings complexity the lemon brings surprise. And brightness. It’s like squeezing a lemon over whisky. Thus the twist.

creme caramel is a simple firm set custard with a sticky caramel topping

So what is the difference between creme caramel and flan?

Creme caramel and flan are so closely related many people consider them the same desert. They are both egg yolk custards. Both are gently baked for a creamy set consistency. They both have a layer of smooth thin caramel that spills out to cover the custard in a sweet sticky sauce.

Both desserts share a dessert ancestor called flan that originated in Spain in the 1500s. Through Spanish colonization, the dessert traveled the world. And it has changed to fit the people and available ingredients along the way. In South America, Mexico, and the Philippines people tend to call the dessert a flan. While people in some European countries including France and also Argentina, Uruguay, and Vietnam call the dessert a creme caramel.

Another notable difference is that flan tends to be sweeter and richer because the milk ingredients are often a mixture of sweet and condensed milk and evaporated milk. Many recipes for creme caramel will use a mixture of milk and cream.

If you ask me there is no one right way. There is only knowing how to use the ingredients available to you to make some awesome recipes!

How long should creme caramel bake for?

If you search around for creme caramel recipes you may notice a pretty big swing in baking times. Some recipes recommend as little as 30 minutes and some as much as an hour and a half. Part of the reason for this swing is based on ingredients. Some recipes use 4 whole eggs and the addition of 2 egg yolks. I like to use eggs as whole as possible so I don’t waste yolks or whites. Or quite frankly, forget them in the abyss. But the change in volume and yolk to white ratio would shorten the time needed to achieve a fully set texture.

Pan size will make a difference too. Many people will use a 9 inch round pie pan because of its common size. I like to use an extra deep 8 inch round pie dish. If you choose to do the same, you’ll end up with a wonderfully thick creamy custard at about 50-55 minutes of baking at 325. As far as bake times that are up and beyond an hour, it’s a texture thing. Some people just prefer a firmer set custard. Some people would call it wholly burnt.

This classic Spanish custard is silky smooth, delicious, and sweet without being cloying. The ingredients are simple: sugar, milk, and eggs seasoned with espresso and lemon.

What are the main ingredients to make coffee creme caramel?

  • Granulated sugar, we are going to use 6oz sugar to create a marvelous saucy caramel for the baked cream to swim in.
  • Large whole eggs, they are the only thickening agent in the entire dessert so whisking them carefully with the warm milk mixture is important to getting a good set.
  • Milk, the liquid that will carry the flavors of our espresso beans and lemon zest.
  • Cream, because. we. can.
  • Espresso beans and lemon zest, it’s all about the oils here. We are going to steep the espresso beans and zest in warm milk to infuse all the flavor.

How to make the caramel for coffee creme caramel

To make the caramel top we are going to add 6 oz of granulated sugar, 2 oz of water, and the juice of half a large lemon to a small saucepan. Go ahead and give it a mix so the sugar isn’t just sitting on the bottom of your pan.  Crystallization can happen even with the lemon juice present so it’s important to go low and slow with this caramel. it’s pretty simple to do if you remember just a few steps.

  1. Stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved and then stop. After this point, the caramel is pretty good at doing its own thing. You’re just there to keep it from burning.
  2. Don’t scrape the sides of your pan. Sucrose molecules like to cling together in neat orderly crystals but can’t do that when they are dissolved in water. However, they can crystalize at the top of the syrup on the edge of the pan where the water has evaporated. These crystals can further trigger more crystallization. Especially as the water evaporates from the caramel and the caramel is a higher concentration of sucrose. It may be tempting to scrape down the sides of the pan to get everything mixed in, but that’s exactly what can trigger crystallization and grainy caramel.
  3. Give the caramel your full attention. It’s not active work but it’s important. The caramel can move quickly from one stage to the next or slowly. Part of that is the consistency of heat under your pan. Just watch how it’s going. The color will turn from clear to amber to dark amber. The caramel is done when it turns dark amber and bubbling is clear and not foamy but before it turns a mahogany color and starts smoking. At that point, carefully pour the caramel into the creme caramel pan and swirl it around so it coats the bottom. If the caramel starts smoking before you turn off the heat, it is too done and will taste bitter. If this happens, just start again.

Why use a hot water bath?

A bain-marie or hot water bath provides a sort of insulation for the creme caramel as it bakes. Instead of being heat blasted from the sides, the water bath and low oven temperature help the whole creamy thing bake evenly.

Cooling on the counter and in the fridge

This creme caramel is going to smell amazing. Unless you made it for yourself (which is a real thing people should do with dessert) you may have to stifle the temptation to stand over the stove and scoop out the warm custard with a spoon. It needs time to cool. First in the water bath for about 30 minutes and then in the fridge for at least four hours to set well.

The espresso in coffee creme caramel brings complexity the lemon brings surprise. And brightness. It's like squeezing a lemon over whisky.

Coffee Creme Caramel With A Twist

Serves 8

Skill: intermediate

Flavor profile: smooth, after dinner cocktail

All liquid measurements are by weight


  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 16 oz milk (2 cups)
  • 4 oz cream (1/2 cup)
  • 4 oz granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 3-4 1″ wide strips of lemon zest
  • .80 whole espresso beans (1/4 cup)

For the caramel

  • 6 oz granulated sugar (3/4 cup)
  • juice of 1/2 a large lemon
  • 2 oz water ( 1/4 cup)


  1. Prepare for the water bath by placing your creme caramel pan ( 1 1/2  quart loaf pan, 9″, or 8″ round pie dish with tall sides) inside a baking pan that it fits into with at least 1 inch of room on each side and that has sides as tall as your creme caramel baking dish.
Steep the milk
  1. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, cream, sugar, espresso beans, and lemon zest to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Stir often to dissolve the sugar. Do not burn the milk. When the mixture simmers, turn off the heat, cover, and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes.
Make the caramel
  1. Make the caramel by adding the sugar, lemon juice, and water to a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Let the caramel cook until it has gone from clear to amber to dark amber.
  3. Immediately turn off the heat and slowly, carefully pour the caramel into your creme caramel pan. Quickly tilt the pan back and forth to coat the bottom.

At this point preheat the oven to 325f.

Make the custard
  1. Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat them with a whisk until they are well mixed and a bit frothy. About a minute.
  2. If the milk is still warm, pour it into the egg mixture in a slow stream while whisking. This allows the eggs to come to temperature without scrambling so it’s important to do it slowly. If the milk is cool you can add it more quickly, but adjust the time you take to bake the creme caramel as it won’t get that head start.
  3. When the mixture is fully incorporated pour it through a fine-mesh sieve into the caramel-lined pan.
  4. Pour hot water into the larger baking dish so it comes halfway up the (out) sides of the creme caramel pan. The water doesn’t need to be boiling but it should be hot.
  1. Bake until the custard is mostly set but still jiggles a bit in the center, about 50-55 minutes.
  2. Carefully pull the entire thing out of the oven and let the creme caramel cool in the water bath for about 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the creme caramel from the water bath and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 to 48 hours.

Serve creme caramel in slices, with extra caramel sauce spooned over each slice.

*Note the coffee creme caramel will always have a bit of a wobble when you move the pan around because of the caramel on the bottom of the pan.

This coffee creme caramel is firm but smooth. I love the addition of dark espresso beans and lemon zest steeped in the milk.

Want more simple but delicious recipes? You might like these three-ingredient side salads.

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