So why is the first entry in this Cook’s Treat blog a Cuban flan?
Well, first, because I’m Cuban-American. Second, I have the world’s worst sweet tooth. I think meals should begin with dessert and only then proceed to anything else. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to convince others of that.
I learned to make flan from my grandmother and my sister learned from my mom. We both use different methods for making the caramel that is essential to a sweet flan. My mom and sis start with just sugar and melt the sugar sans water which has a tendency to produce a darker and slightly bitter tasting caramel. My grandma would dissolve the sugar in water first and then boil it down, kind of like making candy. The caramel this way is sweeter and lighter in color — actually clearless if you don’t want to push the cooking.
So here goes and for a little bit of family history — pictures of my abuelita (that’s Spanish for grandma) and mami (my mom!):
For the baking process: Large baking pan. 1 1/2 to 2 quart ovenproof baking dish (I use the same pan to make the caramel and then put the custard. Why wash two dishes? Corningware is da bomb for this.) Hot water to fill large baking pan halfway up the sides.
For the caramel: 1 cup plain white sugar
For the custard:
- 6 whole eggs
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 can Condensed Milk (Not evaporated, but Sweetened Condensed Milk. Magnolia or Eagle Brand are favorites!)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a large baking pan in the oven with hot, but not boiling water about half way up the side of the pan. This will make what is called a Bain Marie. The Bain Marie will help keep the flan from drying out and will allow it to cook evenly.
Step 2: Make the Caramel:
Start with 1 cup of sugar. Set it over medium heat in a heavy medium/small saucepan or preferably, an ovenproof 1 1/2 to 2 quart dish. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the sugar is is melted and begins to turn golden. Keep on going until it is a dark dark brown. (Be very careful!! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.)
Abuelita’s Caramel (and guess who that is with grandma in the picture!)
Start with 1/2 cup of sugar and dissolve it in 1/2 cup to 1 cup water. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved before you begin to heat it (if you have any sugar left, it will form crystals and be gritty). Once the sugar is dissolved, set the pan with the sugar over medium heat in a heavy medium/small saucepan or preferably, an ovenproof dish. Use a wooden spoon to stir until the sugar water is reduced (it should get thicker as it cooks). Grandma liked it light, but you can let it get golden and keep on going until it is a dark brown. (Again, be very careful!! Cooked sugar is very hot and can burn the skin if it spatters.)
NEXT STEP regardless of how you made the caramel:
If you did not use an ovenproof pan/dish, quickly pour the hot caramel syrup into a baking dish (DO NOT GREASE THE PAN).
If you did use the ovenproof pan/dish — MAKE SURE TO PUT ON OVEN MITTS before proceeding!
Swirl the pan until the sugar coats the bottom and sides of the pan/dish. The caramel will start to harden at this point. When you cook the flan in the oven, the caramel will melt and make a delicious syrup that the flan will swim in. AGAIN be very careful. A sugar burn is quite painful!
Gently mix together the eggs and egg yolks. Do not create too much froth or bubbles as these will linger and ruin the texture of the flan. Add the condensed milk and gently mix a little more. Then finally add the rest of the regular whole milk (for ease and to get all the condensed milk, put the whole milk into the can and use it to wash out all of what lingers in the can from the thick condensed milk). Again, gently mix until the mixture is smooth.
Add the vanilla.
Pour this egg/milk custard mixture into the baking dish (make sure the caramel has set against the sides and bottom of the pan).
Set this baking dish into the larger baking pan with the hot water. Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes or so. If it’s a little soft (but not runny), that’s okay as it will continue to cook for a bit. Be careful with the hot water in the bain marie (baking pan with water), but then let the flan cool in the water. After half an hour or so, remove the flan from the bain marie and refrigerate for at least an hour or more.
It’s actually preferable to make the flan and let it sit overnight so the caramel soaks into the outermost layer. Yum!
Before serving, run a sharp knife around the edge of the flan to release it from the baking dish. Place a larger serving plate (preferably with a small lip to keep the caramel liquid from spilling) over the baking dish and, invert the flan onto the serving platter.
Keep refrigerated until it’s time to serve.
For simple variations, you can add a little amaretto or grand marnier to both the caramel and the custard mix. For more complex variations, try a chocolate flan (which I’ve never made in my life!)
One thing that is delicious is to increase the number of egg yolks and eliminate the egg whites entirely. This will make a very thick rich egg custard called Toscinillo del Cielo.
Cuban Flan, made by my sister Carmen, is a staple at our Christmas Eve celebration. Why don’t you try it out as well!