Okay, of all the Latin-themed dishes we make here at Catz, this is easily one of my favorites. For one thing, it’s a Latin dessert. We don’t make many of those (I’m not brave enough to deep fry ice cream yet!). Secondly, it feels adventurous when you’re making it, but it’s actually really easy and quite difficult to mess up – it came out basically perfect the very first time I tried it. How one comes up with a recipe this foolproof and tasty for something that can be as tricky as flan is beyond me, but we have someone named “Beth” at Allrecipes.com to thank for it. I’ve made some modifications each time I’ve made it, but they are relatively minor. All in all, I’d be hesitant to mess with this formula too much – it’s basic, but it is so good!
Let’s talk flan for a moment. In some ways, flan is the best of many worlds when it comes to desserts. It incorporates a satisfying amount of sweetness, but not to the point of being overwhelming. It’s beautiful to look at, but in a simple, elegant way, not an ornate one. It certainly carries the characteristics of custard, but it literally “stands” on its own, setting it apart from mere pudding. Believe it or not, flan’s origins are not Latin American, but Roman. The ancients prepared flan as a savory course, focusing primarily on finding an elegant and versatile way to serve eggs. With the conquest of Spain (the Iberian peninsula at the time), flan spread throughout the European continent, and was eventually carried to Central and South America (and Mexico!) by the conquistadors and those that followed them. It is believed that the Spaniards oversaw the evolution of flan into a sweet dessert, with the Mexican culinary culture perfecting the version we know and love – a custard-like structure with a caramelized sugar topping.
My understanding is that many different varieties and flavors of flans exist – almond, cinnamon, pistachio, chocolate, and pumpkin are a few of the examples I have heard of. Personally, I’ve only ever prepared and partaken of the traditional Mexican flavor – vanilla. This recipe is for a vanilla flan, of course, but I see no reason you couldn’t get creative and substitute some quality almond extract in place of the vanilla extract, for starters. I’m planning on giving it a shot myself soon! In the meantime, though, this is the perfect compliment to finish off any Latin-themed meal. Next time you serve tacos, enchiladas, burritos, chimichangas, tortas, or flautas, try this as your dessert! Here’s a disclaimer: if you’ve grown up making traditional Mexican or Spanish flan, or you’ve perfected your authentic flan-making skills over the years, this recipe is probably not for you. However, if flan is something you’ve only ever ordered at Chevy’s or salivated over at your local Mexican restaurant, this is a great way to get comfortable serving up a special Latin treat.
The flavor you’re looking for in this recipe is predominantly vanilla. I’ve increased the vanilla extract in this recipe 50% from the original as I’ve experimented with it, and I think this is the sweet spot between hints of vanilla and overwhelming vanilla. If you decide to try another flavor, you’ll probably have to start from ground zero as far as figuring out how much to use. The ingredients are so simple and inexpensive (other than the vanilla), you can certainly try it out multiple times.
Yes, those hearts on the fridge in the background are from my daughters. They made them for each other during craft time at the library! The mystery black canister? That would be sugar.
Foamy and frothy flan mixture!
We make our flan upside down!
Why the measuring tape? Read on to the recipe to find out!
The flan turns this beautiful color when it’s ready to take out of the oven
I always prepare and serve my flan in ramekins as individual portions. There a couple of benefits to this. First, it’s really cute (hey, what can I say?). Secondly, it cooks faster and is easier to transfer to a plate without destroying. Lastly, it makes it really easy to determine exactly how many you’re goingto be able to feed. All of that being said, one large flan makes for a very impressive presentation, so if you feel ambitious, make the appropriate modifications and go for it. Keep in mind that ramekins are all slightly different sizes, so you may have a bit of the flan mixture left over. 2/3 cup of sugar makes enough caramel sauce for about six ramekins that are three inches in diameter, but the flan mixture would probably fill about eight that size. I only have six, so I didn’t worry about it, but if you have more, I would use a full cup of sugar for your sauce.
One last note before we get into the recipe. When you’re making the caramel sauce, resist the temptation to stir. Swirl, shake a bit, lift from the fire as needed, but don’t stir. It only makes the sugar start tocrystalize, and you’ll have toremelt it. You’re really going to feel like you should stir (unless you’ve done this before), so maybe have a second person stand with you in the kitchen during that part for the sole purpose of keeping spoons out of your reach. Just a thought!
Begin by adding eggs, milk, heavy cream, condensed milk, and vanilla to blender. Blend on high for one minute. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Add sugar to 1.5 qt (1.4L) non-stick saucepan. Heat saucepan over medium heat, swirling and sifting the sugar about to keep it from sticking to the bottom or burning. As the sugar begins to dissolve and turn brown, it may be necessary to hold the saucepan a couple of inches above the flame to keep the sugar dissolving without burning.
When sugar is completely caramelized, liquid, and a deep golden brown with no crystalized solids, immediately pour into ramekins, swirling the ramekins about as you pour to ensure that the caramel sauce coats the bottom of each dish evenly. It is important to work quickly, as the caramel sauce will harden almost instantly upon contact with the ramekins.
Place ramekins in a deep cookie sheet (min 1.5 in) or glass baking dish, spaced evenly. Pour flan mixture from blender into ramekins. The mixture should fill the ramekins almost to the point of overflowing.
Add one inch of hot water to the cookie sheet or baking dish, allowing it to fill in the spaces surrounding the ramekins. Carefully (both the ramekins and the baking dish will overflow easily) place the baking dish in the oven. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until flan is set and the mixture visible in the top of each ramekin is a bubbly golden brown.
Carefully remove baking dish from oven (water is very hot, and still prone to overflowing) and allow water and ramekins to cool. Depending on environment and time to serve, it may be necessary to refrigerate the flan temporarily to allow it to completely set. If time is limited, ramekins may be placed in the freezer briefly.
Run a small knife around the inside edge of each ramekin to loosen the flan. Turn ramekin upside down on a plate, hold base of ramekin firmly, and shake once or twice to free flan from ramekin. Carefully lift ramekin away from flan. Some caramel sauce may remain in ramekin. Service immediately.