Or, Are Ramekins and Custard Cups the Same Thing?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between the traditional ramekin and the custard cup. You may also see a third variation, the pudding cup. These different cups are often used interchangeably and they are all three made of several different materials and sizes. What is the actual purpose of each? Or, are they simply different names for the same thing?
Ramekins and custard cups are actually different, but the difference is quite slight. This slight difference is, however, important.
Pudding cups, not to be confused with ready-made Snack-Pack pudding you buy in the grocery store, are relative newcomers, and are really just small bowls for setting and serving pudding. As this makes them no different than any small serving bowl, and since a custard cup can be used for the same purpose, there is not much more to say about them. However, one difference between a pudding cup and a custard cup may be that pudding cups have a rounded bottom more like a bowl, whereas custard cups have straight bottoms.
The ramekin] or ramequin comes from the German word rahm which means “cream.” The ramekin is, in fact, a dish traditionally used for foods make of cream or cheese. There is a Dutch dish called ramkin that is made almost entirely of cheese. This function is seen in European cooking, in France, and even in England. Probably the most important function of the ramekin is for making souffle, or souffle-like dishes. The dishes are made of stoneware, porcelain, or oven-proof glass.
Recommendation: HIC Fine White Porcelain 6-Oz Ramekins
Custard cups, as the name implies, are small cups used for baking custards. The cups are usually placed in a water bath or bain-marie to apply more gentle but constant heat to the custard. Like ramekins, they are made of stoneware, porcelain, or oven-proof glass. Some custard cups are wider than they are tall, and others are taller than they are wide. There are no rules as to how they must be shaped.
Both Ramekins and custard cups come in small to large sizes ranging from 4 ounces up to 8 or even 12 ounces. You may find very large sizes of either, but both names are reserved for small vessels or “cups,” not large baking dishes. Although you may find a very large ramekin for sale, there comes a point where a ramekin becomes a souffle dish. A souffle dish will look like an extremely large ramekin. Both ramekins and custard cups are used for baking individual portions. Generally, one cup, or 8 ounces, is considered large. After this, souffle dishes skip to quart-size, in general.
Difference Between Ramekins and Custard Cups
Ramekins usually have a fluted design on the outside, but also come with other designs. Ceramic custard cups may also come with a fluted design, or they may be smooth on the outside. Glass custard cups may be plain or decorative.
Whereas custard cups have flared sides, however, ramekins have straight sides. The straight sides of a ramekin allow a souffle to rise properly. This is the most important difference between the two. It also means that although you can use a ramekin as a custard cup, you don’t want to use a custard cup to bake a souffle. Just about anything can be baked in a ramekin. All sorts of desserts, including individual cakes. Crème Brulee is one of the desserts most often baked in a ramekin. Since a Crème Brulee, no matter how fancy it may seem, is basically a baked custard, you have to wonder why anyone needs “custard cups.”
Most of us don’t have the space, money, or desire to have a large range of both ramekins and custard cups. Many souffle recipes for individual portions may not specify a particular size, but simply instruct you to divide the batter evenly between the cups. Many recipes may call for 4oz, 6 oz, or 8 oz cups.
If you bake a lot of different custards, souffles, mini casseroles, cheesecakes, etc. you may want to have a range of sizes. But, if you need to choose between custard cups and ramekins, the ramekin is probably the way to go as it can be used for any purpose but is suited for souffles, which are very particular and tricky.
What Size Ramekins Should You Have?
This is one of the most confusing issues cooks have with ramekins. There are so many different recipes mentioning different sizes or no sizes at all, and so many different sizes of ramekins. But, who wants to have a full set of four different sized ramekins?
Well, for most recipes, you can easily choose between 4-ounce and 6-ounce sized ramekins. And, even 8 ounce sizes may be fine. For souffles, cooks generally fill the cups all the way to the top or leave around an inch or a little less space. So, the problem is that if you have a recipe that calls for filling six 8-ounce cups and all you have is six 4-ounce cups, you will have leftover batter. In other words, what is generally more important is having enough cups to divide up all your batter or other ingredients into so you don’t have to try to adjust recipes to suit the amount of space you have. This could be very difficult to do properly.
When choosing sizes, it is probably best to go for a smaller size, and simply make sure you have a large enough set of ramekins to suit most purposes. Ideally, a set of 4-ounce and a set of 6-ounce ramekins would be best, but if you can only choose one, I would suggest that a set of 6-oz as the best “all-around” choice.
Pyrex Custard Cups and Ramekins
A relatively inexpensive, and durable option are Pyrex custard cups and ramekins. You probably already have some Pyrex baking dishes in your kitchen. You can buy custard cups and ramekins made from the same durable clear glass, safe for ovens, microwaves, and the freezer.
What if I Hardly Ever Use My Ramekins?
The trouble we often have which buying such thins as ramekins is that we decide we want to make a certain recipe, maybe individual cobblers, or bread puddings, or even individual souffles, and we think, “what if I just use them this once?” No one wants to spend money on a kitchen item that hardly ever use.
Well, ramekins are actually very useful in the kitchen. A good set is very durable. They can be used in the oven and the microwave. You can use them to heat up individual portions of leftovers. You can put them in the dishwasher. You can even freeze them.
Before I purchased a set of ramekins I was always needing bowls to put my ingredients in as I was prepping. I would have my minced garlic, onions, and other ingredients and I’d end up putting them in little plastic storage containers, or on small saucers, or in large bowls that were too large of the purpose. I didn’t have any “small bowls” comparable to a ramekin. Then, once I got the ramekins, they ended up getting a lot of use because I used them constantly when I was preparing meals for the minced garlic, chopped onions, spice mixtures, etc. that I needed to have ready. The “mis en place” if you will.
Of course, you can use ramekins simply as individual serving vessels for anything, such a pudding, or even for a side dish that you want to have truly “one the side.” Anything that you can bake in a large dish can generally be also baked in a ramekin, and everybody loves to get their own dish. If you would usually make a bit dish of bread pudding, you can make individual bread pudding. If you would usually make a large casserole, you can make individual casseroles. And, of course, you can make individual pot pies. So, if you purchase ramekins and only use them once, don’t blame it on the ramekins!
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