Jerry: So, where do you want to eat tonight?
Patty: How about La Caridad again?
Jerry: Again?! How much flan can a person eat?!
Seinfeld: “The Serenity Now”
I was stumped for a clever introduction for this entry on flan and after an absurdly long 15 minutes of playing peek-a-boo with the cursor I walked out to the living room, turned on the TV, and caught a Seinfeld episode right as the above exchange was happening. Yes, I have strange psychic/telepathic abilities. Paranormal activity aside, the question of how much flan a person—or a whole people—can eat is completely valid. I’ve often wondered myself because among the Spanish-speaking world, there seems to be an insatiable hunger for it.
If Latin America were to become a single Union, à la Europe, the national dessert would most likely be flan. Lately I’ve taken to polling Spanish and Latin American friends—and strangers—about what they most commonly eat for dessert and flan is the answer 90% of the time. You’ll see flan stamped on every Latin American restaurant menu (including La Caridad; 2199 Broadway at 78th Street, NYC, though you’ll find it listed as “pudín de leche”), in many home fridges, and even in the baking aisle in powdered form, like American Jell-O pudding.
I resisted flan for a long time. “How stereotypical!” I thought. After the eye roll followed performance anxiety. There’s an overwhelming amount of bad flan made, served, and somehow eaten every day. Bad flan, riddled with deep dimples, like a bad case of cellulite. Bad flan, undercooked and slippery, like a strange serpentine sea creature swimming down your throat.
Good flan should have slight jiggle, but more along the lines of a trainer-tightened posterior than a waterbed. Good flan is minimalist and sleek, like an expensive silk blouse.
Flan, or more precisely egg-based custard, has been in existence since Roman times, where it was mostly presented as a savory dish. Variations and permutations found their way around the world, but arguably, today when we hear the word flan we think mostly of the Spanish-speaking cream-colored custard with a pool of deep amber, burnt sugar caramel.
The recipe that follows is my mother’s go-to; it can be made in un dos por tres (a snap) and has always turned out silky and perfectly set. There are thick flans, but this one is on the slimmer side—the caramel-to-custard ratio is just right. Make it and you’ll see what all the fuss is about.
FLAN DE CARAMELO
- For easy measuring and easy clean-up, once you’ve poured the sweetened condensed milk into the blender, use the empty can to measure the milk.
- If you don’t have a roasting pan for the bain-marie or water bath, use a baking dish large enough to accommodate the cake pan.
Equipment: Roasting pan or large baking dish, 9-inch round cake pan, medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, pastry brush, blender (optional)
Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
14 ounces milk (See Notes), at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Place clean kitchen towel in roasting pan. Set 9-inch round baking pan on top of towel. Set tea kettle or pot of water to boil.
Meanwhile, combine sugar and ¼ cup water in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Dampen a clean pastry brush and brush down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan. Boil, swirling the pan occasionally, until the sugar turns deep amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately pour the caramel into the baking pan and swirl to coat to the bottom. Allow it to set, 5 to 10 minutes.
Place the sweetened condensed milk, milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt in a blender and blend until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. (Alternatively, you may whisk the ingredients together by hand in a large bowl). Pour the flan mixture over the caramel mixture.
Open the oven door and set the roasting pan and flan in the oven. Carefully pour hot water into the roasting pan—water should reach halfway up the sides of the flan pan. Bake until flan is set, but still a bit wobbly, about 1 hour.
Remove cake pan from roasting pan and cool on rack, about 15 minutes. Chill completely in refrigerator, 2 to 3 hours. Run a knife along the flan edges and invert onto serving plate. Serve.
This recipe originally appeared in Serious Sweets.