Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lenten Friday cookalong, part 3

[This had been stuck in my draft pile--waiting for pictures, I guess--but here it is.]

I realize a lot of people have given up chocolate for Lent and, sometimes something happens calling for a celebratory dessert. Fear not, the answer is Flan. Now, not everyone may have an idea of what the deal is with flan. The French tried (and failed) to appropriate it and rename it "creme renversee" or "creme caramel" but Flan it is.

It's basically a baked custard, firmer than a creme brulee (lacking the latter's caramel exoskeleton, it'd have to be) and with a less eggy/more milky flavor profile.

This was originally a Spanish dessert, but as it spread throughout the Empire, local variations evolved. I know Mexico has its variation, as does Argentina and they are all as similar as first cousins. The version from Cuber relies on "convenience products" borne of a then-close association with the USA and the necessities of a tropical climate where dairy and eggs spoiled quickly (that's why you'll never see a recipe that has an imbalance of yolks and white...too much waste). For example, in Spain, they'd never use anything other than fresh whole milk, etc.

I'll post mo' pictures, but here's the dead-easy recipe.

Flan (in the style of Cuber)

¼ c. sugar
1 can of condensed milk (lowfat or fat free is fine)
1¼ c. of milk (anything that is NOT SKIM milk will also work: whole milk, evaporated milk in any -- even fat free! -- variation, lowfat...just not fresh skim milk)
4 large eggs (or 2 eggs and 3 whites)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Take a soufflé dish, scatter the sugar evenly over the bottom and place in the oven at 325F (___C) until the sugar has caramelized to the color of pale honey, toss in the freezer to set caramel. If your dish isn't tempered to handle the temperature shock -- or if you don't want to discover it isn't the hard way -- you may use a saucepan to melt/caramelize the sugar and then pour the caramel in the dish, rolling it around to coat the bottom evenly. Set aside.

Empty the condensed milk into a mixing bowl, scraping the inside as clean as possible. Add the milk to the empty can, to rinse off what you can, and then add to the bowl. Add your eggs, and mix thoroughly...do not incorporate air into this. Stir in vanilla.

Pour custard mix into soufflé dish. Place dish in a roasting pan and fill with water. Turn oven to 300F and bake for about 60-70 minutes, until the center is wobbly. Remove and refrigerate until chilled (figure 3 hours). Run a damp boning knife along the edge and invert to unmold.

Using evaporated milk over fresh will give a bit more depth of flavor, fresh milk will make it taste lighter. Same applies to the ratio of yolks to whites. Using extra whites will make the flan firmer, but less eggy. I like using skim evaporated milk and whole eggs. You do whatever. You may also make this in individual ramekins which makes for a more posh presentation, but is a greater PITA in unmolding. Oh, and baking time drops to +/- 45-50 minutes.

The most important thing in making flan is keeping an eye on the time/heat in baking. You can tell you did it right if there are no bubbles or "eyes" in the body of the custard. If you get these, the texture will suffer some (its mouthfeel will be a touch gritty; the more bubbles, the grittier) but it will taste fine. Just adjust the time/temperature accordingly. When in doubt, it's better to bake these sorts of things low and slow.

This ain't a race, people.

-J.