Saturday, February 25, 2006

What I Love about Flan

I adore flan.

I've never had it prepared by anyone but myself, and in fact, I doubt I would order it at a restaurant. It is one of three desserts I make (the others are sorbet and ice cream--similar, but I'll go ahead and think of them as two different things in order to make it appear that I am able to make more than two desserts). I'm not sure how or why I started making flan, only that even on the first try it came out essentially perfect, and I have been quite happy to keep making it on occasion since then.

The first flan I had was made by my grandparents' friend Peri, and brought to a thanksgiving dinner when I was perhaps 14 or 15 years old. I recall that I thought it looked devastating, but that it was more wierd than good to eat. I also recall that the various adults at the dinner fussed over it, giving the impression that it was both special and exotic.

Years later I found a recipe for it in one of my more favorite cookbooks, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. Since then I have made it for a number of dinner parties, most recently for the february gathering of our dinner group.

There are two things I love about flan. The first is that the custard is really not very sweet and not very rich. It is fabulously silky, but because it is made with only a minimum of sugar, and a mix of 2% milk and 1/2 and 1/2, it is more egg-y than sweet or creamy. The other thing I love is the caramel. Caramel is, of course, delicious, but it is also really cool. I cant get over the fact that it is really just sugar and water, and a chemical reaction that turns these two ingredients (one of which is hardly an ingredient, frankly) into an ambrosia. I don't know if there is a problem with my cooking skills, or if caramel really is one of the hardest things to get right in the kitchen, but I still only end up with a workable caramel sauce about two or three out of four times I make it. Perhaps I am not careful enough, but more than occasionally I end up with a crystalized brown sugar, rather than a caramel syrup.

I also love a flan pan. I got mine at fante's in Philly (in the Italian market):

The recipe I use is as follows:

Caramel coating and sauce

1 cup sugar
3 Tbs water
2 Tbs or so rum or brandy


2 cups milk
1 cup half and half
2 vanilla beans
5 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
(If vanilla beans are too spendy, I have had good luck skipping them and adding an extra tsp vanilla extract)

Make the caramel by combining the sugar and water in a saucepan and heating (without stirring or shaking the pan). Oh, it is so hard not to fool with the pan, but do try to avoid it--this is one of the things that can make the sauce crystalize. Somewhere I read to moisten the sides of the pan, above the boiling sauce, using a pastry brush dipped in water, to help reduce the risk of crystalization. After several minutes the syrup will start to color. Swirl the syrup so it colors evenly, and once it is dark, but not too dark, pour off 1/4 cup or so of the syrup into the flan pan, and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. make the sauce now: pour 4 or 5 Tbs water into the caramel and stir over heat. The water will make the sauce bubble and spit, so be careful. when it is cool, stir in liquor. If it is too thick, you can reheat it with some more water in the microwave.

Make the custard

Preheat the oven to 350

Pour milk and half and half into a saucepan and scald. steep the vanilla beens in the milk mixture. Meanwhile, blend the eggs, yolk and sugar in a mixing bowl with a whisk. Mix well, but be careful not to creat foam or bubbles, as these will mar the final product. Remove the vanilla beans from the milk. Pour a little milk onto the egg mixture while stirring, to temper the eggs. Then gradually pour the rest of the milk mixture in, stirring, but still being careful not to introduce bubbles.

Place the flan in a bain marie (a second pan of water) and bake in the oven for 50 minutes or so. To test it for doneness, insert a knife in (being careful not to put it in more than an inch or so). if it comes out clean the flan is done (even if it still seems super jiggly).

Let the custard cool and then unmold by passing a knife around the circumference of the flan and then inverting onto a platter.

Serve cold, topped with extra caramel sauce.

The extra caramel sauce is really a very important part of the dish. Without it you have a not very sweet egg custard. With it, you have, well, something to write home about.


Blogger The Modesto Kid said...

Yeah, making candy is super-exciting. I don't know about making custard because I never do it, though I like custard a lot. But making candy is fun. Even if it doesn't come out quite right (which it does somewhere between never and very, very infrequently when I am making it) you end up with a tasty substance similar to the one you were aiming for, and impressive. So I get a lot of: caramel drops that won't ever quite set; chocolate coatings that have swirls of white in them; crunchy (and too-sweet) marshmallows; etc. I do most of my candy cooking from Joy Of -- do you know a better text?

10:26 AM  
Anonymous ktincu said...

I for one can attest: The flan was divine. There was plenty of fussing and ahhhing and mmmmming and caramel-sauce-licking going on. Unfortunately, eating Gabriel's flan hasn't inspired me to give the recipe a try. It has only inspired me to eat only G's flan whenever possible. Why set myself up for disappointment by trying to recreate the magic?

10:04 PM  
Blogger Lynndi said...

You guys are making me really hungry.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Tell Them It Was a Friend said...

Please vote for organic greens on my blogsite! So much is at stake.

10:42 PM  
Blogger Tell Them It Was a Friend of a Friend said...

NO NO! Vote for cheese! Many varieties of fresh Wisconsin cheese!

10:43 PM  
Blogger A Friend of a Friend of a Friend said...

Hardly! Sardines and drowned boots rule! Surely Jaybriel will see that and support MY food choice in our massive polling effort.

Actually, I would like to try that flan sometime!

10:45 PM  
Blogger The Management said...

It is my understanding that someone has your flourless chocolate cake dish, that they've done a relatively inadequate job washing it, that they now gaze upon it hopelessly every morning while preparing espresso and catfood. This is a tragedy beyond compare.

10:48 PM  
Blogger LaineyM said...

In Miami, we have several variations of the plain flan recipe. My favorite is the Cheese Flan.Baking directions are the same, only difference is the filling and the fact that we brown the sugar a bit more.
In a blender, add 4 eggs, one can each condensed and evaporated milk , one 8 oz and one 4 oz. package of cream cheese.Blend for about 3 minutes and pour into the prepared flan pan. There is no need for additional sauce because the darker caramel compliments the cheesecake like flavour of the flan wonderfully.

12:14 PM  

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