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#FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

Flan Basics Collage 2 #FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

(Shots from my Instagram feed except for middle image, top row)

It has not escaped my thoughts that we’re now in the 3rd week of 2014 and I’ve not shared a new flan with you. Short of excuses, I have no valid reason other than regathering myself from Christmas and trying to happily get in the cooking mood again. Cooking for Flanboyant Eats, that is. Life has been incredibly great, busy cooking for my clients, both corporate and private, tho leaving little time for my personal fancies and ideas. I have this mire poix of projects entre manos and finding balance is my goal right now. Finding time to get back to the very things I love sharing with you most. You already know flan is one of them.

But as I consider I’ve been blogging here for 6 years (hardly a beleiveable reality) and 3.5 of sharing my love for flans via #FlanFriday, I can’t fathom not having offered you a basic Starter’s Kit. You know… the equipment you need and the variables to account for making different flans. Sometimes we overcomplicate ourselves, with great intention, but omit the inclusion of bare basics. And without those elementary tools, there’s no where to really go.

Let’s change that. If you love flan, have never tried making it for yourself but really want to try mastering it, let’s talk simple talk. 

I started #FlanFriday after a pensive weekend thinking about why I had named this blog Flanboyant Eats. I think somewhere in the archives I mention it was mostly inspired by my childhood where Mami used to bake a special traditional one for the family to enjoy. I don’t come from a typical family, tho. You can probably imagine that! My dad’s eating habits and needs are a result of my mothers fine dedication to being the best, most placating wife ever. And with 5 hungry kids to feed, there was always food to be rationed. As I recall, flan was that ONE thing we all fought over; only because of a quart sized flan, which usually serves up 7 nice slices, Papi got 1/2 of it. You already know how the story ends in dividing the other half. 

And equally important, I started #FlanFridays as a way of celebrating the dessert I made for and fed famed chef, Joel Robuchon, to which he enthusiastically exclaimed to be the “parfait crème caramel pour tous les gents!

He ate my flan and loved it. 

JRflan1 #FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

(The most beautiful flan I’ve actually ever made. And Joel Robuchon ate it.)

So at the turn of responsible cooking and knowledge, I tackled flan first. I had to figure thing out for myself. Why was it so special, so beloved, so fought over. At the time, to me it was just really good dessert Mami made. 

But now I have full understanding. It’s not just a rich postre Mami made. It’s a super beautiful dessert with qualities of perceived complexity, though so organically easy. Caramelizing sugar apart, it’s probably the easiest dessert I’ve ever made. 

And you’ll see why. 

At its lovely core, flan is just an egg based custard, whisked up with a few other things, set in a mold, baked for up to an hour, and set in the fridge for a few more. That’s it.

Five ingredients: eggs, milk, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, vanilla (extract or  bean).

Three cooking utensils: mixing bowl, pressure cooker (or baking pan for conventional cooking), flan mold (or ramekins).

Heat

Cold.

That’s it. 

But there are some tweaks we can each give to our flan making which will yield a different texture, size, consistency, and flavor. So…

THE VARIABLES

Ingredients {and flavors}

Cow’s milk is a must. So is sweetened condensed milk. But some like to play with the dairy. I’ve made some with evaporated milk and really enjoy the flavor and texture. I don’t default to it much, but it’s a great option and addition. I say the more the leche condensda, the better; keeping ratios in mind. There’s also the idea of using organic condensed milk which was a huge fail for me. Not in a major way, but noticeable enough to not ever want to do that again. Ever.

There’s also the sugar for the caramelization process. I mostly use refined white (don’t judge if you’re a health nut, please), but certain moods and flavor compositions call for raw sugars (real raw sugars) like sucunat or muscovado, neither of which I’ve yet to introduce you to in my flan ventures. But I will. They.are.divine. 

You can play with sugar combos as well. I’ve added lime zest to sugar for a blueberry margarita…. but that would work ridiculously good in my mojito flan! Or lavender sugar for my lavender flan. Next time! My point: play with your sugars for a dynamic caramel experience!

Eggs. Big, beautiful, yummy eggs.  We all love eggs. I’m an egg hoarder, actually. I can eat up to 5 eggs a day, every day, but that’d probably kill me. Use white or brown, organic or conventional. I’m spoiled and source all natural, brown eggs from a Cuban friend whose best friend is a local farmer and treats me to 72 eggs every 3 weeks. No matter, the eggs must be there. It’s the binder. It’s the basis. The question is then wether  you want a thicker flan where you’ll use more than 3, which is my standard recipe. But this about YOU baking flan. So play around with egg amounts. No more than 5, please, if you’re making no more than a quart & 1/2. 

Eggs #FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

And of course, no real baking happens without some pinch of vanilla extract or bean. I always, always use vanilla extract, no matter the flavor I’m creating. Adding additional extracts is amazing, but vanilla must be in the mix. That’s only proper. 

Let’s get to the real issue here… Purism. Purists are purists and will always stick to the traditional, well-loved vanilla flan. In all its due glory, it’s so limited.  I won’t lie, it’s amazing with just those 5 staple ingredients; that’s called classic cooking. But the expansion of fusion and créativité  allow for plentiful loveliness. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pleased friends, family, clients, publishers, etc… with the vast flavors I’ve conjured up. Not all work, but with time and proper development, you can make some unforgettable flans! I’m telling you this to be bona fide truth! 

So, things like creamy and smooth peanut butter make a fantastic version. Sprinkle some crushed Reece’s pieces on top for garnish, and boom, you’ve got a super fun flan. I’ve not made that one yet, but it’s been on my mind for ever. Or the habanero, guava, and ricotta one! Oh.my.good.word. Making different flavored flans requires understanding some level of ratios (mainly, eggs to milks to additional ingredients) which will impact your final custard. The goal is to have consistent textures and consistencies regardless of what you’re making, unless of course it’s the sweet corn one. To die for.

Ultimately, the flavor possibilities are almost endless and you can have flan parties

Cooking method

Pressure cooking is my default method. It’s faster and more energy efficient, two critical things in my life. It’s not a new method, but it’s not been as popular or widely accepted as the traditional baño de Maria. I’ve personally not found any difference in consistency or texture in cooking it 70% faster. Some ultra purist out there may! Pick one up. It’s a must. 

A water bath is most known and can be done stove top or in the oven. Either way, both measures can take up to an hour to bake, depending if you’re using a flan mold or ramekin. I’ll touch on that below. I find water bath approach to be cumbersome, especially if I’m doing it stove top. As the water evaporates, you have to continually add more water, more than likely lukewarm, lowering the current water temps, resulting in longer cook time. Nah. Too much for me. Pressure cooker, baby. 

If you prefer conventional baking and aren’t ready just yet to plunge into the intensity of pressure cooking, I vote for oven baking. It requires less attention, but equal amount of cook time. 

15 minutes versus 45-60? Eh, you decide. 

Setting

Flan mold vs. ramekin

Flan Mold and Ramekin #FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

(Ramekins; coasted flan mold)

This is easy. If you want to serve a large “pie,” use a flan mold. $9 and you’re good to go. Major benefits, too. Everything starts and ends there, beginning with the caramelization. You simply add the custard mix in it and add to pressure cooker or baking pan. Yields a lovely, even round pie. Serving is in the the form of a pie slice. Be generous. Or not. My mom wasn’t so much growing up. You know, Papi got first and biggest dibs. 

Ramekins are prettier as you can decorate them individually, but that comes at the price of time and more labor. After melting sugar in a nonstick skillet, you have to swiftly transfer enough sugar into each ramekin to coat. This’ll be trial and error for you if you’ve never done it. The trick is to cook the sugar at a low enough level to give you time to get to each ramekin; assuming you’re working with several. It’s definitely more laborious. And I really don’t have time for all that. But, if it’s for a special party, then I’ll make smaller ones. Like these gorgeous little thing here: 

BrenHerrerasQuinoaFlan1 #FlanFriday: The Essentials to Making the Crème Caramel

(Quinoa with goat cheese and blueberries)

So, see. It’s quite easy. Really easy. Making flan is all about ratios, textures, and plating. The in-between stuff you’ll get down right with practice. Start with practicing how to achieve the perfect cognac colored caramel. That’s so key. It’s hot. Work on managing the heat. And then just have fun! 

Flan is good. It’s really, really good. It can be as decadent and refined as you want. Or it can be that comfort dessert that takes you back to Abuelita’s kitchen. 

It’s just a creme custard. Fret not. 

Until my next creation, here are some of my faves, with recipes in the link. 

FLAN DE QUINOA WITH GOAT CHEESE  & BLUEBERRY COULIS

EARLY GREY & THYME

CINNAMON CREME

SAVORY TRUFFLE  (especially this one!!)

And, here’s a really informative post on how to make it all happen! Especially how to make caramel. Enjoy! 

Happy #FlanFriday!

PS: Tell ME! What flavor would you love to see next? 

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By Bren
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