Monday, December 13, 2010

My Aunt Martha's Caramel Flan

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With a maternal grandmother who was famous for her culinary abilities, I inherited two aunts and a mother who are also great cooks.  It doesn't stop at that...my first cousins are wonderful cooks too and everybody is extremely competitive.   Each of us has developed an expertise and in this case, it it my mother's middle sister who shines in the flan category.  Now keep in mind that once your recipe is  decreed as "best of breed", nobody else in the family should invade that turf.  Your flan is the one everyone makes and when we get together, if it is flan we are having, that person gets to bring it! No, you cannot make that person's recipe for them and if you do so, you must be a glutton for punishment for there is no way yours will turn out as good and all that trouble will be for nothing.

My mother's best of breed recipe is her black beans and my other aunt's a Spanish dessert called Brazo Gitano that even I wouldn't think of tackling.  I tremble every time I have to make my mother's black beans recipe for the family group in this neck of the woods.  But just as I have passed the making of the Christmas tree to my daughter, I am hoping the black bean nod of approval will soon be passed on to me.  Get the picture?

I am making this flan for my son's in laws who will be a great group to serve as judges as they are Southeners and definitely have never had the anointed one's flan.

This is the classic Cuban flan, which is as light and delicious as it is timeless. In this recipe, though, it has more egg yolks than normal which makes it slightly richer but just as light. This basic flan recipe is also used to make flans of different flavors by substituting another liquid for part or all of the milk. For example, the best sweet oranges in Spain come from Valencia and Murcia, and an orange flan, made from freshly squeezed juice, is popular there.  My Aunt Martha also makes a knock your socks off Coconut flan.  That also is part of her turf and nobody has come close to even trying...hmmm, stay tuned!

Because flan takes a while to cool, it is usually prepared the day before.  That way it also absorbs some of the caramel at the bottom of the pan. When making it for a large group, it is practical to prepare a single large flan in a tube pan.  In the summertime, I sometimes fill the hole with strawberries or blueberries and it is very refreshing.





Makes 12 servings


Ingredients

For the flan:

4 cups whole milk

1 strip lime zest

1 cinnamon stick

6 whole eggs

6 egg yolks

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

dash of salt

For the caramelized sugar coating:

1 1/2 cup sugar

You will need a tube pan


Preparation

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

To prepare the caramelized sugar coating, spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of a heavy saucepan and place over medium-low heat. It may take several minutes before the sugar begins to melt. Without stirring, watch the sugar closely as it begins to liquefy at the edges. All of it will slowly turn first into a yellowish and then golden syrup and finally into a brown caramel sauce.

When the liquefied sugar is turning from golden to brown, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. (If you miss this point, the sugar will quickly turn too dark and taste bitter and you will need to discard it and begin again.)

Working swiftly, pour the liquid caramel into a tube pan and tilt to cover the bottom, the sides of the cone and the sides of the dish evenly. It is important to do this transfer quickly, as the change in temperature causes the caramel to solidify rapidly. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the milk, lime zest, pinch of salt and cinnamon stick over high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately decrease the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the milk with the flavor of the seasonings. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a bowl, combine the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla and granulated sugar and whisk to blend well. Pour the cooled milk through a fine-mesh sieve held over the egg mixture and whisk until well blended. Pour the mixture into the coated tube pan.

Arrange the pan in a large, deep baking pan or roasting pan. Pull out the oven rack, put the baking pan on it, and pour boiling water to a depth of about 1 1/2 inch into the pan to create a water bath. Bake for about 1  hour, or until set when tested with a thin-bladed knife in the center. Take out of the oven and let the flan cool in the water bath.

You can cover and refrigerate the cooled flan in the tube pan overnight.  The next morning, run a knife around the inside of the mold and the sides of the cone to loosen the edges of the custard and then invert the flan onto a dessert plate.  Pour all of the caramel that is left on the mold over the flan.  Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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