Why are the easy things in life so darned difficult? Why I ask, why?!?!! (Head hung over in despair, fists pounding on table.)
Flan is one of those beautifully simple desserts that many countries and cultures claim as their own. Whether you call it crème caramel or custard, history has it that this dessert dates all the way back to the Romans who originally domesticated chickens (flan is a custard that uses lots of eggs). The Spanish got hold of the recipe and added caramel to the mix and then imported it to Mexico when they came and conquered. I don’t know when France picked up the recipe but I do know they feel it is purely their creation.
But how can making a dessert that only has 3 ingredients be so complicated?
It’s always the simple things in life that are the most difficult to master. With flan the key to a smooth texture is the cooking temperature. Cooked for too long or cooked at too high of a temperature and the custard will have a slightly pock-y curdled texture.
I made flan with my Edible After School students to finish up our Mexican Cuisine unit. We made all sorts of shapes and sizes and we even layered flan to create a more dramatic effect.
Keep in mind when checking flan for doneness that the center should be slightly jiggly – just about a dime size of the center. It will set as it cools. Just as in cheesecake or quiche, if you cook it past this stage you end up risking curdled yuckiness.
I like to add a little cinnamon and orange zest along with vanilla to the flan batter, but that’s up to you. My students were purists and opted to NOT add anything but extra vanilla….
This my second year teaching Edible After School, a course I created with Puente for Middle School Students. Over the last two years we have begun our own food business selling grab-n-go food at the farmer’s market in the Summer and jams (hibiscus-strawberry and Tomatillo-ginger-lime) and various salsas too. During the school year we study: baking & cooking techniques, food safety, and regional world cuisine. We are ALWAYS looking for funding and have been running on a generous grant from the Packard Foundation which will be depleted soon. Will you consider making a donation to PUENTE so that we can continue? THANK YOU!
My current students want to continue this class next year and I want to as well, please pass on the word would you? We need some buzzzzz!
- For Caramel
- 1 cup granulated white sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- For Custard:
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large whole eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- Zest from 1 orange (optional)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1-2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Heat oven to 350˚F and place a baking rack in the center. Next to your oven set up a large baking dish with cold water to cool the caramel.
In a small sauce pot add water and sugar for caramel. Stir gently with your finger tip to combine – do not splash the sugar mixture on the sides of the pan or it will create crystals while cooking. This is also why stirring caramel while cooking is a no-no.
Place pan over medium high heat and keep your eyes on it. The bubbles will become bigger and pop slower as the color deepens. Once the color turns to a deep amber remove the pan and cool the bottom in the dish of cold water to stop the cooking.
Pour all of the caramel into an 8-inch nonstick cake tin. (If you move fast enough between stovetop and cake pan, you don't need to cool the caramel). Also, note that caramel turns from the dark amber stage to burnt in just a few seconds so it's NOT something to walk away from. Swirl the caramel coating over the entire bottom of the cake tin.
In another saucepot place the milk on medium high heat and add half the sugar (1/2 cup). Scald the milk, which means to bring to just under a boil. It will be steamy and frothy. Add the orange zest and cinnamon to the milk if using.
In a mixing bowl whisk egg yolks and add whole eggs. Whisk in the remaining sugar (1/2 cup) and the salt. Do not add the sugar or salt to the eggs until the milk is scalded because it will tighten them up.
Temper the egg mixture by whisking in a 1/2 cup of the scalded milk. This will help to slowly bring up the temperature of the eggs without scrambling them. In a steady slow stream add the remaining milk, whisking constantly. Add the vanilla. Strain the mixture into the caramel coated cake tin to catch any coagulated egg bits.
Cook the custard in a bain marie (a water bath): fill a baking dish large enough to hold the cake tin with boiling hot water. Place the cake tin in the bain marie – the water should come up 2/3'rds the way of the cake tin. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Check the custard carefully at 30 minutes. If only a dime size of jiggle remains in the center, then remove and allow to cool before refrigerating overnight. Please note that this flan really needs to refrigerate overnight in order to set.
To plate: Place serving dish over cake tin and invert! Voilà! Eat up and slurp all that yummy caramel