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My grandma’s crème caramel to celebrate one year of Italian table Talk

If there’s one thing the Italians know how to do properly, well this is celebrating, whether it is the patron saint of a town, the centuries-old great-grandmother’s birthday, a wedding with a cascade of rice and flourishes of tulle, the baptism of the newly born or simply a Sunday lunch with family and friends.

I love the real home celebrations, when you gather around a table in a dining room or under a porch with your family and your friends. My memories as a child are dotted with those lunches and dinners, old polaroids and more recent photos, people smiling with a dish in their hands, relatives and friends, all sitting around the food to celebrate. I honestly do not remember what we were celebrating, but I remember the smiles and, obviously, the food. Today with the family of the Italian Table Talk we celebrate one year of stories, recipes and discoveries with the food or drink that most represent for us the idea of celebration.

Emiko has prepared one of my favorite desserts, tiramisu, always present whenever there is something to celebrate, Jasmine has a recipe that intrigues me a lot, a tuna paté known as pesce finto, a must for every birthday and her favorite as a child. Valeria chose a drink which is the symbol of every celebration as a grown up, the spritz. I will show you one of the desserts that was always present in my childhood memories and polaroids, my grandma’s crème caramel, known as latte alla portoghese.

Before hitting the recipe I’d like to tell you how amazing this year with Emiko, Jasmine and Valeria has been. These have been twelve months during which I learnt a lot about the traditions of my region, I dusted off childhood memories that seemed already stored away in the attic that now are shining brightly again. I owe a lot to the Italian Table Talk and to the three talented bloggers with whom I share a story every month, but most of all I have them to thank for learning to look with new eyes to the daily routine to give a meaning to what would otherwise be taken for granted.

You should know the ins and outs of the Italian Table Talk: every month there’s a crazy e-mail exchange with which we aim to decided the next theme and after that we define the recipes to be covered on the basis of traditions and memories, then we try to identify a date that will work for all of us, which is not obvious when you consider that we live in London, in Milan, in Melbourne and here in the countryside between Siena and Florence. When it’s time to press the publish button on our blogs, we definitely are even more curious than you and we run immediately to read the recipes and stories published by the other three, because in the end the reason that gave us a go is still the same, the pleasure of conversation that gave the name to our project, the chatter around a table among friends.

One year of Italian Table Talk

  1. May ’12 – Bread and my childhood afternoon break
  2. June ’12 – Street food and the Florentine panino al lampredotto
  3. August ’12 – Summer preserves and French beans in oil
  4. September ’12 – Grape harvest and September jam
  5. October ’12 –  All Saints’ Day and Halloween and muffins with walnuts and raisins
  6. November ’12 – The new olive oil and dried black olives
  7. December ’12 – Christmas and a cardoon flan
  8. January ’13 – Salumi and the Tuscan buristo with fried egg
  9. February ’13 – Carnival and the schiacciata fiorentina
  10. March ’13 – Easter and the Tuscan Easter lunch with roasted lamb
  11. April ’13 – Foraging and a Tuscan soup made with foraged herbs
  12. May ’13 – Breakfast and the Italian croissants

I loved every theme as a mother loves every child, but I must confess that my favourite ones were those that gave the chance to wander around Florence with my little black notebook and my camera, feeling a bit like a reporter to tell you about the Florentine street food par excellence, the panino al lampredotto, or our carnival sweet flatbread, schiacciata alla fiorentina.

Which were your favorite themes? Have you discovered something similar to your family traditions or did we manage to tease your appetite? We would also be curious to know if there are any topics that you would love to see covered… Yes, because the Italian Table Talk does not stop here, we have already set the July theme that will be perfectly tuned with the long summer evenings and we look forward to discovering new recipes from season to season.

But now, let’s celebrate with my grandma’s crème caramel.

The crème caramel is the dessert you would find on our table until a few years ago every time there was something to celebrate. From the kitchen, where we usually would have lunch at Grandma’s house, we would move to the bigger living room where a long dark wooden table sat in the middle of the room – the same old table I still use for my cooking classes. We would also take the better tablecloths from the closet, those made of linen and embroidered with the initials on the corners.

You would need two people to lay the tablecloth and the precise lines of the ironing would immediately form a checkerboard, which was then filled with china plates, some maybe a little bit chipped but still beautiful, crystal glasses – the ones with the stem, as I called him as a little girl – and heavy cutlery, setting aside those with the plastic handles suitable just for the ordinary days.

Of course the dessert is always the protagonist of the celebration, though the crème caramel is not an overpowering character, it’s an old fashioned dessert. It let the birthday child at the centre of everyone’s attention and conquer you softly, with a touch of lemon and coffee that unpredictably are meant to stay together.

Its origins are uncertain as any self-respecting classic. The name by which it is usually known – crème caramel – denotes a French origin, but the name by which is known here in my area, latte alla portoghese, Portuguese milk, seems to move it to Portugal more than France. It is also known by another name, latte in piedi, standing milk, which well describes its simplicity. Just milk held up by a few eggs, those simple ingredients that were always present in a country house.

Grandma told me how she learnt the recipe, maybe forty years ago, everything was as vivid as yesterday. Aunt Antonietta and her cousin Vivetta had decided to have lunch together. They have always been modern women and had therefore decided that each one would bring something, not to spend the whole morning in the kitchen to enjoy each other’s company and conversation. They had agreed as follows: Vivetta would bring pasta al forno, Grandma would roast a chicken and Aunt Antonietta would make the crème caramel.

Here’s how Grandma learnt the recipe, an extremely simple dessert made just with few ingredients: a litre of whole milk, seven fresh eggs and as many tablespoons of sugar, peel of a lemon and a coffe cup of strong coffee. To finish a hint of vanilla, which my grandma would obtain by adding a peach leaf while the milk was heating up.

So in a June afternoon I made for the first time my latte alla portoghese to celebrate a year of our project and it tasted exactly as I remembered. A soft trembling pudding with the caramel that opens up in a sweet pond, to which you come back again and again to eat another spoon, just one. It’s a bit like tiramisu, do not ever give me an entire crème caramel because I would be able to finish the whole thing, spoon after spoon, without even realizing it. Then I would also like the plate till the last drop of caramel.

Print this recipe
5 from 1 vote

Crème caramel

Course Dessert
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves 8
Author Giulia


  • 1 l of whole milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split open
  • Peel of 1 organic lemon
  • 7 eggs
  • 7 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 coffee cup of espresso

For the caramel

  • 5 tablespoons of sugar


  • Heat the oven to 160°C.
  • In a small saucepan heat the milk with the vanilla pod and the lemon peel until simmering, then remove it from the stove and set aside.
  • Whisk the eggs with the sugar until well blended, but do not overmix otherwise you would incorporate too much air.
  • Filter the milk and pour it in a thin stream into the eggs along with the coffee, stir until smooth. You'll obtain a very liquid custard.
  • Pour 5 tablespoons of sugar on the bottom of a pudding mould and let it melt over medium heat until you get a golden caramel.
  • Pour the milk and egg custard over the caramel, then gently lay the mould inside a larger mould filled with a few inches of water and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until set.
  • Remove it from the oven, let it cool down then set aside it in the fridge for a few hours.
  • Before serving unmould the crème caramel onto a serving platter and cover it with the caramel.
Tried this recipe?We love to see your creations! Snap a pic and tag @julskitchen and hashtag it #myseasonaltable!

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The hashtag to follow the conversation on Italian Table talk on Twitter is #ITabletalk (easy, isn’t it?) and now you can find us also on our new Facebook page Italian Table talk. 

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This Post Has 25 Comments

  1. A delightful dessert! This crème caramel looks absolutely irresistible. A wonderful family recipe.



      1. Thank you for one of the most interesting things I have found on Facebook. Where have you been??? My family if from a little country town close to Carrara and I visited them about about 15 years ago. Thank you for these wonderful recipes and your warm stories of love.
        Sandra J. Laconi

  2. How fast a year has gone by – and there are still so many recipes and topics to cover! You’ve reminded me of something I forgot to mention in my post about the most important thing about celebrations – any celebration – in Italy and that is simply the absolute necessity of the presence of FOOD! It’s a given, yes, but it’s also amazing how the memories of those celebrations are held together by the food memories – the tang of that lemon and coffee (great combination!), the aroma of something else coming from the oven, for example… This sounds like my kind of recipe, I am dying to try this! I’m also so curious about the peach leaf infusion – have never heard of that! Wish we could be chatting about this over a slice each of tiramisu and latta alla portoghese right now! Tanti baci, cara.

    1. Yes, so so so true! Food is always at the centre of every celebration, as a symbol, an excuse, a ritual, a comfortable thought for someone. Even pretty unique moments as funerals have food as given presence, or at least in the South is still like this.
      As for the peach leaf, you must try it: it adds a subtle sweet aroma, something in between bitter almond and vanilla, so perfect in crema pasticcera!
      I still remember your tiramilova, by the way! 😉

  3. Congratulations on a delicious year of posts!I realize it is not always easy to produce recipes that entice readers and get them motivated to cook or bake, but you do a superb job.

    1. Jann,
      This is one of the kindest things you could tell us, it is so important for me to show that everyone cn cook, that these simple and traditional recipes can make everyone at ease!
      Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    Happy 1st Birthday Italian Table Talk! I have so enjoyed reading your posts and discovering new recipes! You have all done an impeccable job of capturing stories, photographs and recipes. I’m looking forward to reading more! Auguri! P.S. Creme Caramel was also a special dessert in our household when I was growing up. For the longest time, I never liked it, but as I grew into adulthood, it has become one of my very favorite desserts.

    1. Thank you Flavia for celebrating with us!
      As for the crème caramel, I’ve alway always loved it, and nowadays if possible I love it more passionately, for its trembling look and silky texture!

  5. This year has flown and your collage is the best visual recap for it! So muc brainstorming and creativity! I really love the process in between posts, perhaps that’s actually the best part of the project!
    As for latte in piedi, that’s absolutely a new to me recipe, but it just sounds perfect for summer as it is flourless and gives you a lighter feeling than cake. Bookmarked 🙂

    1. Indeed, it is a special festive dessert for summer. I can eat it straight from the fridge, it’s highly refreshing and not heavy at all. Let’s not count the eggs!!

  6. I can’t believe it’s a year already! I love this last ITT we published, these recipes are particularly festive and perfect for the theme!
    Now, I think my boyfriend would fall head over heels in love with this latte alla portoghese: I need to try the recipe, though maybe in a smaller serving, since it’s just the two of us! We love panna cotta, budini and everything that trembles and shakes 🙂

    1. Yes, smaller servings are just as perfect, we used to make them into the tiny aluminium moulds – Cuki or similar – and eat them straight from them with a spoon.
      I agree with you, we love everything that trembles and shakes as well!

  7. Congratulations ladies!
    Italian Table Talk is wonderful! not only the recipes but most of all the stories behind them, the traditions, the personal memories and the different perspectives that each of you brings along.
    What unites you is your love of your country (adopted country for Emiko) and your love of wholesome food and sharing it.
    Thank you for an inspirational first year!

    1. Thank you so much Karin, you are so right, we share the same love for Italy and wholesome food, and most of all we enjoy sharing it and learning from each other! Hugs

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