This post is part of our Behind the Bite series: deep dives into the dishes that we can’t stop thinking about.
Everyone’s heard of crème brûlée—but what if we told you the Catalans were making a version of the famous dessert centuries before the French dreamed up theirs?
Crema catalana is a staple on dessert menus throughout Spain. But in its home region of Catalonia, the obsession for this tasty treat runs deep. It’s not just one of the must-try foods in Barcelona—it’s a delicious representation of Catalan history and culture.
We’ve eaten more than our fair share of this delicious local favorite, and have narrowed down where to find the best crema catalana in Barcelona. But before we get to that, let’s take a step back in time and discover the history behind it, and what sets it apart from its more famous French cousin.
Photo Credit: Takeaway, Text Overlay: Devour Barcelona Food Tours
Crema catalana: what it is, and a bit of history
We’ve already established that crema catalana can best be likened to a lesser-known version of crème brûlée. The main differences are that the Catalan version uses milk instead of cream, often features the added flavors of lemon and cinnamon, and does not require a hot water bath to make.
Crema catalana has been around since at least the year 1324, when it was documented for the first time in a Catalan-Valencian cookbook titled “Llibre de Sent Soví.” That’s right: crema catalana had been around for more than three centuries by the time the first crème brûlée recipe showed up in France in 1691!
The dessert’s association with Catalonia is a point of pride among many Catalans, who cherish their families’ recipes and continually pass them on to subsequent generations.
“It’s a 100-percent Catalan dessert. Every family has their own recipe that is handed down from generation to generation,” says Judith from Bodega La Palma, home to some of the best crema catalana in Barcelona (in our humble opinion!).
Speaking of which…
Where to find the best crema catalana in Barcelona
- Bar del Pla: Consistently listed by locals as one of their favorite tapas bars in Barcelona, this cozy spot feels like it could be your go-to hometown watering hole. If the staff and clientele at said hometown bar chattered away in Spanish and Catalan, that is.
- Bodega La Puntual: This longtime favorite in the heart of the Born neighborhood is famous for its excellent Catalan wine list and vermouth in addition to its fabulous crema catalana.
- Bodega La Palma: The secret to the exquisite crema catalana at this beloved spot is quite simple. “We make our crema catalana with the freshest ingredients, and most importantly with lots of love,” says Judith.
- L’Olive: An emblematic locale in Eixample that’s been providing a fresh take on Catalan and Mediterranean cuisine for more than 35 years.
- Agut (Carrer d’en Gignàs, 16): This local institution—one of the few remaining authentic spots left in the Gothic Quarter—is renowned for its homemade, beautifully presented desserts, crema catalana among them.
- Ca L’Estevet: Historically a meeting point for Barcelona’s top intellectuals and politicians, this spot does good, honest, homestyle Catalan food exceptionally well.
TRY IT: Authentic Crema Catalana Recipe
Modern takes on crema catalana
Barcelona is a city that is constantly changing and evolving, often taking its most traditional dishes along for the ride. While the classic crema catalana we all know and love will always be there, several innovative cooks and pastry chefs have given it a modern spin.
Take, for instance, the cremats at Pastisseria Ideal. This twist on the beloved classic takes it out of the typical individual ramekin and transforms it into a bite-sized pastry that’s easy to eat on the go—no utensils required. It’s no wonder this is consistently a favorite taste on our Gracia Neighborhood Food & Market Tour!
But it doesn’t just end there. It’s getting more and more common to find the simple, delicious flavors of crema catalana used as a complement to other Spanish and Catalan ingredients. Antunez serves theirs with a carquinyoli (a traditional Catalan cookie)-flavored ice cream. It’s the same deal at Santa Gula, except their frozen accompaniment is a refreshing mandarine sorbet.
Only time will tell what other fascinating culinary creations will incorporate crema catalana in the future. But one thing’s for sure: there’s nothing like the satisfying crack of the caramelized top layer breaking as you sink your spoon into it, finally proceeding to take that first delicious bite.
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.