Crème Catalane is a favourite dessert in the Languedoc Roussillon and is similar to Crème Brûlée but is made with lemon and orange zest, cinnamon, vanilla and fennel seed. Many countries lay claim to the origin of the dessert – including Spain, England and Germany but the chief difference between Crème Catalane and Crème Brûlée is that Crème Catalane is not baked in a bain-marie and is based on milk. The earliest mention of this dessert is in a French cookbook in 1691.
Fennel seeds give Crème Catalane a mild aniseed flavour and grows wild in the Languedoc Roussillon. It is thought that Fennel originated on the shores of the Mediterranean and it has become widely naturalised elsewhere (perhaps being spread by the Romans). It is a highly aromatic herb with both culinary and medicinal uses, and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe. In Greek mythology the Giant Fennel (Ferula communis) provided the stalks that followers of Dionysus, the god of wine, used as wands.
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 vanilla pod
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp cornflour
4 tbsp brown sugar
Boil the milk, vanilla and crushed fennel seeds in a saucepan, then turn down heat. Cover and leave for 30 minutes. Strain the milk and add egg yolks. Whisk the mixture, then add the sugar and lemon and orange zest, then whisk again. Add the cornflour with a little more milk, cook gently, remove from heat just before boiling. Pour into 4 ramekins and chill for 2 hours in fridge. Sprinkle with sugar and caramelise for 2 minutes under grill just before serving.