Monday, January 1, 2024

 Flan Is The Plan

I ended 2023 with a decadent dessert – my December Dacquoise, so I think it’s appropriate to start off January, 2024, with another dessert, in this case, a Fabulous Flan.  Flan is a simple and elegant dessert consisting of a baked egg custard base with a caramel layer on top.  It’s ultra-creamy, super silky, and exquisitely rich.  A flan bakes with its own enticing caramel sauce on the bottom (which ends up on top as a sauce when you invert the baking dish) and I’m adding a little extra embellishment – spun sugar with which to crown the custards.  You’ll learn some basic techniques along the way – how to make custard, how to make caramel, and how to spin sugar, creating golden, jewel-like strands of confectionary elegance.  With these procedures under your belt, you’ll be able to apply them in many other desserts with a myriad of variations and flavors so that the results will be endless.

 Let’s start off with a bit of flan history.  The origin of flan can be traced back to the Roman Empire.  The Romans, being the first to domesticate chickens for the purpose of harvesting their eggs, began inventing ways, which they adapted from the ancient Greeks, to use their surplus eggs.  And somewhere in here we have the birth of flan, in the form of custards, both sweet and savory.  One of the first versions of flan was a savory peppered eel dish, but it didn’t take long for the Romans to sweeten their creation with honey, the only sweetener available at the time.  As the Roman Empire expanded throughout Europe, its customs and recipes survived, flourished, and spread.  The Spanish were particularly taken with the dish and are credited with adding the caramel element to flan, with the Moors adding a bit of flavorings, like citrus fruits and almonds.  When the Spanish conquistadors landed in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the flan traveled with them. The Mexican flan continued to evolve, with coffee, chocolate, and coconut flavors added to it, and the popularity of the dessert extended to the rest of Latin America.  Although the basic method of preparing flan hasn’t changed much from the beginning, with the custard base being three ingredients (eggs, milk, and sugar), variations of the flan have developed throughout the years. Depending on the availability of ingredients, differing flavor preferences, and the individuality, creativity, and personal style of each cook, something special and ethereal can be created each time.

 Now, on to the flan.  Being totally out of eel, I’m going with a sweet version of flan.  And you’re quite welcome.


 Caramel Flan With Spun Sugar

 6 1-cup ramekins
 9 TB sugar
 6 TB water
 1 cup sugar
 1 pint heavy cream
 1/2 cup skim milk
 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
 2 whole eggs
 6 egg yolks
 For the caramel:
  In a small sauce pan, combine 9 TB sugar and 6 TB water. Without stirring, bring to a simmer over medium low heat, cooking until the mixture turns a golden amber color.

 Working quickly, divide equal amounts of caramel syrup into each of the ramekins, rotating the ramekins until the sides are coated halfway up.

 Rosie Note:  I first let the ramekins sit in a baking dish filled with hot water, to make it easier to swirl the caramel in.  If the ramekins are cold, you'll have a hard time swirling, since the caramel will immediately harden upon hitting a cold ramekin.

 For the flan:
 Pour milk and cream into a saucepan.

Rosie Note:  You can substitute the skim milk with any percentage fat milk.  I use skim because I always have it on hand.

Scrape the vanilla beans and add both seeds and beans to the mixture.  Place over low heat until small bubbles appear along the edges of the pan.  Do not boil; just bring to a bare simmer.  Remove from heat and discard beans.

Heat oven to 300°.

Beat together eggs and yolks until thickened and lemon-colored.  Gradually whip in 1 cup sugar until pale and foamy.  Add the hot cream mixture to the eggs slowly, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling.  Pour custard mix into ramekins set in 9 x 13-inch baking dish.  Add boiling water to reach about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. 

Bake custards until set, about 55 minutes.  Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until well chilled.

 Run a sharp, thin knife inside each ramekin and invert onto plates.

 These flans are perfectly acceptable as is, although I do like to adorn with a bit of fruit.  Strawberries were not looking good at the market when I made this so I used some Amarena cherries I had on hand.

 If you want to take it a step further, go for the gold – the spun sugar!

For the Spun Sugar:
 9 TB sugar
 6 TB water

Make the caramel as you did before.  Remove from heat.  It needs to cool a tad to be spinnable.  Dip a fork in it and swirl the tines over the flans.  You can use your fingers to pull the caramel strands and drape decoratively over top.  This is the fun part!


Prepare caramel for 
bottom of ramekins.
This is the color you want.
Working quickly,
Pour caramel
into warmed ramekins.


Make the custard:

Scrape out
 vanilla beans.

  Combine milk,
cream, vanilla beans 
and seeds.
Bring to simmer.
Beat eggs, yolks,
and sugar.

Slowly beat 
 hot milk mixture
into eggs.

Ladle into ramekins.

Pour boiling
water halfway
up sides.


Invert onto
 serving dish.

See how the 
caramel pools?

Now, you can eat the flan just as it is, ORRRRRRR,
you could garnish it with some fruit. 
The strawberries at FoodLion were actively growing mold when I checked,
so I topped these with a few Fabri Amarena cherries I had in the fridge.

Here's what they look like:

You might consider
keeping these on hand.




 Now, let's take it to the next level -  spun sugar.

  Make the caramel again. 




Caramel ready to spin.



 Like I said, spinning is the fun part!
Dip the tines of a fork into the warm caramel and just go back and forth with the fork.
You can also use your fingers to pull the threads and position them.

Have fun!

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