Calling flan a caramel custard is to do it an injustice. No mere pudding, this traditional Mexican dessert is the crème de la crème of sweets. Of course, not surprisingly, there are a hundred and one variations on the basic recipe. But sometimes the original is so much more than one can expect, to alter it is to approach cooking blasphemy.
Start early in the day so your flan has plenty of time to cool before serving. Then get ready for a bit of heaven.
- 5 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 4 cups of milk
- 1 1/2 cup of sugar
- 2 strips of lemon zest
- 1 cinnamon stick
You can start with the ‘frosting’ first. Spread a 1/2 cup of sugar on the bottom of a saucepan and warm to medium-low heat. The goal is to brown the sugar, turning it gooey without burning. At a certain point it will start to melt. Don’t stir, but you can give the pan a little shake to prevent sticking.
Once the sugar is golden brown remove from heat and pour into a dozen warmed custard cups. You want the sugar to remain like syrup and not crystallize.
Warming custard cups is simple. Put an ounce of water into each cup and put them into the microwave for a minute, then remove and pour out any excess water. Watch carefully to ensure that the water doesn’t all boil away.
In a saucepan, combine milk, lemon zest (the outer peel of the fruit) and the cinnamon stick. Bring to a vigorous boil, then lower the heat and simmer for ten minutes. Remove and let stand.
In a bowl, mix the whole eggs and egg yolks together with a cup of sugar. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl through a fine sieve. Whisk until the result is well blended. Pour the result into the coated custard cups.
Arrange the cups into a baking pan, then pour in an inch of water, being careful not to splash any into the custard cups. Then bake at 300F/150C for an hour and a half. Check the flan periodically to ensure that the water has not all boiled away.
Remove the pan from the oven carefully, avoiding dumping the boiling water onto the floor or knocking over the custard cups. Remove the cups and let them cool for several hours in air.
Preparing flan takes a bit of effort, but the results will be worth it. If you doubt it, just ask the people who can’t tell you because their mouths are too full of flan. A big thumbs up will do nicely.