Saturday, July 4, 2015

Flan, or Crème Caramel

By Chicken One - 
Flan Recipe

Or crème caramel …… I've always been confused so we looked it up: "This custard dessert is  known as flan in Spain, in Italy as crema caramella and in France as crème renversée. It is a custard that has been baked in a caramel-coated mold. When the chilled custard is turned out onto a serving plate it is automatically glazed and sauced with the caramel in the mold." Thank you Dr. Google!

So we set out to prove we could make it, no matter what we called it!


1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons of light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon of juice from a lemon


1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups of light cream
3 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup (4 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of salt

For the caramel:
In a medium pan, bring sugar, water, corn syrup and lemon juice to a simmer, without stirring, over medium-high heat. (see SCAFU at right) Wipe any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush because they can cause the syrup to be grainy. Continue to cook until the syrup turns from clear to golden, swirling the pan continuously for even browning until large, slow bubbles on the surface turn honey-caramel in color.

Remove the pan immediately from the heat, and working quickly (and carefully - it's very hot!), pour a portion of the caramel into each of 8 ungreased 6-ounce ramekins. Our ramekins were larger (hey, use what you have on hand!) so we only used 6. Allow the caramel to cool and harden, about 15 minutes.
For the custard:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (make sure rack is in the middle).

Heat milk and cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steam appears - usually 6-8 minutes- remove from heat.

Meanwhile, gently whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar in a large bowl until just combined. 

Off the heat, gently whisk the warm milk mixture into the egg mixture, adding vanilla and salt. Strain the mixture  through a fine mesh cloth into a large measuring cup or a bowl with a pouring spout. Set aside.
Place the ramekins in a large baking dish or roasting pan and divide and pour the custard mixture evenly into them.
Fill the pan with about two cups of boiling water so that it reaches about half way up the sides of the ramekins. At this point you can cover the pans loosely with aluminum foil, allowing the steam to escape.
Bake until a paring knife inserted halfway between the center and edge of the custards comes out clean, about 35 to 40 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature. They can then be chilled in the fridge (loosely covered with plastic wrap) for up to 2 days.
To unmold, slide a paring knife around the perimeter of each ramekin. Holding a serving plate over the top of the ramekin, invert and set on the work surface. Gently shake the ramekin to release the custard.

By Chicken Two -
It should be noted that us two Chickens trade columns with no rhyme or reason. That is, Chicken One (Column 1) may be Chicken Two the next week. In this case we were both essentially Chicken One because we didn't do two variations of this recipe.

But we did have a SCAFU:
If you have been cooking for hours and hours in a hot kitchen with another Chicken and you have not properly concentrated on the recipe at hand (or in this case recipes), this is what will happen if you inadvertently tell the other chicken to add much less water than the recipe calls for:
Sandy, dry sugar that only bubbled and looked like the salt flats. Mea culpa. 

The solution: Dump it out and start over. We did.

Here is what it SHOULD (and eventually did) look like:
Potential SCAFU for You:
Watch the sugar mixture CLOSELY and be prepared to remove it from the heat at a moment's notice. It takes a little practice to recognize when the sugar reaches the appropriate color, and you have to react immediately when it does. Use our picture here as a guide. Don't be afraid to waste several batches of sugar water to practice. Sugar and water are cheap.

NEVER think you can get away with "just a little scorching". It will ruin the flavor of the whole dish. The solution: Dump it out and start over. Worth it.

Another potential SCAFU for You:
Flan can become weepy after it's unmolded. That is, sometimes it can seem to secrete water after you put it on a plate and you end up with the custard standing in watery caramel sauce. To avoid this, make sure you strain the egg mixture through cheesecloth before pouring them into ramekins. If you don't strain it, you might serve a swampy dessert.

For a different variation of flan that includes cream cheese, check out my travel and food blog, A Travel for Taste, wherein a Mexican friend and I attempted her mother's flan recipe. I personally witnessed my friend speaking to her mother in Mexico online, so I'm sure the recipe came straight from her. The Mexican version I tried is not the same as the flan presented here at all, but it's addictively delicious nonetheless!

While Chicken One was writing up the recipe at the left, I was left to my own devices. As often happens with me, I started thinking about words. This time it was the word ramekin. It is a word that's come relatively recently to my vocabulary, just since I started really concentrating on learning recipes like this. There were certainly no ramekins in my house growing up; meat and potatoes don't require anything so elite! Therefore, I did a little research on the word and came up with the following info I thought I'd share with you:

Ramekin comes from the French word ramequin. The first mention of that word is found in text from 1706. Linguists theorize the French word comes from a Flemish word rameken or a Middle Dutch word ramken, both diminutives of "cream". This makes sense to me because in German, "cream" is rahm and diminutives are formed by adding -kin. Oh, and one source (it rhymes with Schmikipedia) had it ALL wrong, saying the Flemish word came from a word that meant "battering ram". Right.

One more note: As opposed to flan, crème brûlée is a custard with a hard caramel on top instead of the liquidy version. We will get to crème brûlée presently as chickens. Be patient.