Take a classic French dessert and mix in some unique, fragrant Filipino flavors — ube, pandan, turon — and the result is staggeringly delicious. It is this extraordinary combination of tastes and textures that the bakers of Crème Caramel, a Los Angeles-based dessert business, have mastered.
Kristine de la Cruz, founder of Crème Caramel, has always been interested in baking, but practicality told her to stick to her stable job in marketing. Yet, every night, she found herself surrounded by recipes, thinking of how she might pursue her culinary passion.
Finally, just a little more than four years ago, she decided to make a bold move on her dream. So far, de la Cruz said, the decision has been worthwhile, especially when she sees how customers react to her products.
“When you work with baked goods, there’s this look of love on people’s face,” de la Cruz said.
The idea for her business started with a family recipe for a simple dish called crème caramel, a vanilla custard drenched in a caramel glaze.
Amid the proliferation of cupcake shops, such as the popular Sprinkles chain and other bakeries that have gained a A-list popularity, de la Cruz felt confident that the family recipe for crème caramel was good enough to break into the dessert business on its own.
“I wanted to focus on a niche,” de la Cruz said.
With this idea in mind, de la Cruz worked on perfecting her own version of crème caramel, a delectable French-Filipino hybrid with touches of a Filipino dessert called leche flan.
On Sundays, de la Cruz can be found at the Atwater Village Farmers Market. De la Cruz said that Crème Caramel makes a point to let customers sample their flavors.
“People don’t always know what crème caramel is, so we want them to give it a try. Chances are they’ll come back,” said de la Cruz.
De la Cruz is generous with her samples. She typically lets people sample four flavors, all doled out in little white paper cups. The first sample, the original crème caramel, is a perfect bite of creamy, perfectly thick vanilla custard with a touch of the delicately sweet caramel.
Following that, de la Cruz usually offers prospective customers a piece of her vanilla bread pudding with salted caramel sauce, which has similar flavors blended into chunks of soft, moist bread.
Next comes one of the more exotic flavors — an upside down ube pie. Though many customers initially shy away from this dish once they learn that ube is a type of purple yam, a pleasant experience awaits those who are willing to give it a try. Like an exotic, colorful cousin of a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, the upside down ube pie has a buttery, crumbly crust that tops off a sweet interior. The treat was inspired by de la Cruz’s childhood.
“Ube is found in Filipino dishes. The flavors we use are inspired by what I grew up with,” de la Cruz said.
Though the business started with one simple custard, de la Cruz has expanded the menu to include dozens of flavors, featuring both custards and bread puddings. Vegan options are now available as well, so no one has to miss out.
“The original crème caramel sells out every week, but we’re surprised at how popular others, like the caramelized bread pudding, are,” de la Cruz said.
From Meyer lemon lavendar to turon (a Saba banana and jackfruit combo), de la Cruz has expertly paired dozens of rare flavors and is always looking to experiment with new ones.
Part of the process also involves working out the tricky baking issues, such as getting the marshmallows right for the upcoming Rocky Road flavor. But mistakes can sometimes inspire new ideas. Such was the case with the upside down ube pie, an idea that developed from having a difficult time getting the tops of certain custards to be perfectly smooth.
For de la Cruz, it’s important that ingredients used in Crème Caramel’s products come from local sources and small businesses. The bakers begin with the ingredients they find around them at the farmers market and then buy from nearby stores.
“We want to support our community,” de la Cruz said.
The workers at Crème Caramel hope that similar support will be shown when they open a storefront within the next year. Currently, desserts are made in a kitchen co-op and are sold online, at farmers markets and at The Park’s Finest restaurant.
Whether you’re craving salty or sweet (or even purple yam), Crème Caramel will certainly satisfy. Make a day of it and visit the Atwater Village Farmers Market — you won’t be disappointed.
To find out more, check out the Crème Caramel Facebook page or visit their website at: