Trinity Burnt Cream, Cambridgeshire
Although baked custards of various types have certainly been around since at least medieval times and probably far longer than that, there is a rather charming story that Burnt Cream, also known as Trinity Burnt Cream, was created in Cambridge at Trinity College. Even the myth itself contradicts this idea, as the story goes that in the late 19th century (some cite the precise year as 1879) an undergraduate offered it to the college kitchens, but was spurned, though when he became a fellow the same kitchens decided it was a lovely idea. To this day Trinity is noted for regularly serving this dish.
There is another myth about the dish that should be dispelled while we are at it, that British Burnt Cream (in the Trinity story it was said to have been the speciality of an Aberdeenshire kitchen brought to the fens) is synonymous with the French Creme Brulee. They in fact differ markedly. Apart from the obvious fact that Burnt Cream being British is better, they have two major differences: the custard in the British version should be unsweetened, whereas the French attempt at the dish uses large amounts of sugar in the cream; and the British topping is thicker, the solidified caramelised crust having to be broken with the pudding spoon, the French version breaking if looked at in a funny way.
Trinity College is said to possess a special iron for making the topping, complete with college crest. While it is hard to agree with Trinity as the original source of such a dish, it is easier to accept that perhaps the kitchens there perfected it: indeed, using an iron to make the topping is far better than attempting to melt the sugar beneath a grill, though the iron will require reheating if the dish is being made in any quantity.
The traditional Burnt Cream is not in fact baked, but rather made on the stove as a custard and then left to cool before the topping is applied. Though the most important thing is that the cream beneath the topping be rich and unctuous, some flavourings are often used - a hint of cinnamon, perhaps some lemon zest, or possibly a touch of nutmeg. The delight of the dish is the contrast of smooth unsweetened cream and thick caramel topping, the two elements combining to perfection.
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