Chilled Spanish flan

I had a few inspirations for making flan.  Way back in the day, my brother used to work in a Spanish-Asian-American restaurant.  We're talking roughly two decades ago, before "fusion" was hip and then commonplace. It was a restaurant owned by relatives of ours actually, and my brother worked there part-time as a waiter while going to school.  I imagine it was hard work, with late hours and weekend duty, but I think one of the perks of working there had to be the food.  I remember he loved their flan.  When I was making this, I was thinking about that...
Essentially a cold egg custard with a soft caramel top that provides a ready sauce
For my own part, I'm less familiar with flan than I am with another similar dessert, crème brulee. Unless you're in a Spanish restaurant, flan isn't something you see often on menus.  So I haven't thought much about it but when I did give it some thought recently, I realized that flan is simply an egg custard (a cold one) sitting below a layer of soft caramel.

And that brings me to a second motivation I had for trying flan at home.  I love egg custards - it's my idea of sweet comfort food - so why not try a cold version for a change! Without exaggeration, I make this warm/room-temperature egg custard all the time.  When I have whole milk in the fridge that I want to use up - and that happens quite often - I whip two of them up to enjoy with my husband in the evening.  It's smooth creaminess always feels both nurturing and nourishing and I love the flavors of the eggs and milk together with the hint of vanilla.  I have to say - if there's one ingredient I really appreciate, it's eggs.  They are quite possibly the most crucial thing I use when it comes to cooking and baking, and I always marvel at what the egg can do and help you create.  
Lastly, I made flan because I was thinking about cold desserts in these endless days of heat and humidity.  I was also looking for something I can prepare in advance.  With the busy summer schedule, it's nice to be to cook ahead when you have a free moment so that you can simply eat when the time comes.  Flan fit the bill nicely for our dessert rotation.

Like with most things, there are several versions of flan.  This one is on the lighter end of the spectrum - the custard base being essentially the same as the egg custard I make often.  That is, it's made with the foundations of whole milk, eggs and egg yolks. Some richer versions call for cream, condensed milk, or evaporated milk. 
The main deterrent against making flan must be the caramel coating.  I admit it can be tricky (the major issue being it hardens very quickly, making it difficult to distribute evenly in your ramekins) but don't stress about it!  Just expect it and do the best you can, like I did.  Because, quite frankly, it really doesn't matter all that much.  Once the custards go into their water bath and cook, that caramel redistributes.  When you turn it out, the caramel will, magically, be evenly coated and the caramel sauce will flow and pool before your eyes.
Being able to prepare these in advance is a huge plus.  I made these one rainy Saturday morning and stowed it away in my refrigerator.  It can stay there for up to 3 days.  I love opening up my refrigerator and seeing plenty of ready-to-eat foods.

For this flan, I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart, where the base egg custard is very similar to the one I often make and love.  I've made changes to scale the recipe down to half.

My adjustments yield 4 portions.  I recommend using 6-ounce ramekins if you have it but smaller 4-ounce ones work as well.  As you can see from my photos below, I used 3 larger and one smaller ramekin based on necessity.  

Have your ramekins ready, along with a baking dish that can comfortably hold the ramekins.  Boil a kettle of water and set aside since the custards need to bake in a water bath.

Step 1 is making the caramel.  It's really not difficult.  I find you just need to pay attention since you're working with super hot sugar.  All you're doing is setting sugar, along with some water into a pan to cook until the mixture turns amber color.  Swirl the pan as it heat - do not stir - and have a small bowl of water and a brush nearby to wash down the sides of the pan to prevent crystals from forming around.
Caramel ready to be poured into ramekins - work fast since it hardens very quickly
Here's the tricky part.  Once ready, you need to work pretty quickly since the caramel hardens fast.  It doesn't help that we're working with a small quantity here.  In Martha's recipe, she tells you to place the bottom of the pan into an ice bath to stop the caramel from cooking further once it's done.  I find that's not necessary and wouldn't recommend it.  Since the caramel hardens so fast, doing that is tantamount to having it set in the pan.  And I also find that I can try to set the pan back over a low flame to try and soften it back up a bit if necessary.

What I did is carefully take the pan off the heat and immediately distribute the caramel into each ramekin.  Again, be very careful since the sugar is super hot!  As much as possible, pick up the ramekins and swirl it around to evenly coat the bottom of each.  Don't worry if the caramel hardens before you get to do that.  Do the best you can because once it goes into the oven and cooks, I find the caramel distributes evenly anyway.  I haven't quite worked out how that works - how the caramel becomes a wet sauce again after chilling - but seeing is believing.
As you can see, the caramel is not evenly distributed but that's okay!
Step 2 is making the egg custard (see recipe).  I like using milk as opposed to the heavier alternatives and I find it rich and satisfying enough using milk.  If you have a little extra time, you can split half half a vanilla bean and steep that into the warmed milk and sugar mixture for say, 20-30 minutes, before proceeding but for convenience, I used vanilla extract.  I use extract for my egg custards and simply love it, but specks of vanilla beans would look very nice here.
Fill the baking dish about halfway up with the recently boiled water and bake for about 35 minutes, until custards are set and have just a little bit of jiggle to them when gently nudged.  
Here they are right out of the oven.  Let them cool and then cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and chill for several hours or up to 3 days!
And they really do flip right out of their containers.  When you're ready to serve, remove them from the fridge, run a knife all around the inner edge and turn it over onto a plate.  You could take the knife to gently poke the custard out if necessary but give it a shake and a few seconds...it should come right out, sauce and all...
There you have it: a cold, creamy, company-worthy, dessert that you can make in advance and enjoy at your convenience!


Recipe:

Flan
Adapted from Martha Stewart

- For 4 servings - 

For caramel:
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

For custard:
1 1/2 cups whole milk
5 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 large whole eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks (at room temperature)
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place four 4 to 6-ounce ramekins inside a large baking dish or roasting pan.  Bring a large kettle of water to boil.

Make caramel: Set a small bowl of cold water and a pastry brush nearby the stove.  In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar and water to combine.  Set pan over medium-high heat and let cook - without stirring - until caramel turns amber in color, roughly 8 minutes.  Swirl pan as necessary to make sure mixture colors evenly.

Remove caramel from the heat and immediately (and carefully since caramel is super hot), divide among the ramekins.  The caramel will harden quickly.  Swirl each ramekin to evenly coat the bottom of each as much as possible.  (Don't worry if the bottom is not completely evenly coated.)

Make custard: Set a fine sieve over a large measuring cup or heatproof bowl and set aside.  In a small saucepan, heat milk with 3 tablespoons of sugar over medium-heat until mixture begins to bubble around the edges.  Do not let it boil.  

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, and salt.  Slowly add a ladle of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Gradually add two more ladles of the milk mixture, continuing to whisk.  Then whisk in the remaining milk mixture.

Strain through the sieve into a bowl (to catch any cooked bits of egg and ensure a smooth custard).  Stir in the vanilla.

Divide custard among the prepared ramekins.  Place pan into the oven.  Add boiling water to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake until custards are set, about 35 minutes.  They should jiggle just a bit when gently moved.  

Very carefully remove the hot ramekins from the water bath (I double-up two dish cloths around my hand and carefully pull each out from the top).  Place on a wire rack to cool for about 30 minutes. Then, cover each with plastic wrap and chill for 8 hours or up to 3 days.  

When you're ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator.  Run a knife all around the inside edge of the ramekin and turn out onto a rimmed plate.  Serve immediately.




  

42 comments:

  1. Mmm, I love flan. My mom used to buy this packaged flan (like sold with the instant pudding cups). I've had real flan and while the packaged version does NOT do it justice, this post reminds me of eating it growing up. Your version looks so yummy. I'm totally craving it now!

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    1. I love it when I have a food memory like that! Actually, most of my memories revolve around food in some way. haha.

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  2. Your flan looks so pretty and perfect Monica:) I adore egg custard desserts too and this flan sounds like the perfect summery dessert! I love that you can prepare this in advance too. Enjoy your day and hope you're enjoying the summer so far Monica!

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! I like a simple egg custard best and don't feel like I need the caramel sauce but that said, it's fun to try something different. I like that this is cold and the make-ahead part is definitely a plus. Stay cool!

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  3. Monica, your flan look so good, and perfect texture...creamy and silky.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe and have a great week :D

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    1. Thanks for saying so, Juliana! Appreciate it!

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  4. I love custard desserts! Flan and panna cotta are my two absolute favorite. I always order them in restaurants every chance I get. Your flan is so pretty Monica. I just want to take my spoon and dig into it. Delicious! :)

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    1. Hi Anne - I love myself an egg custard but not a huge fan of panna cotta. Maybe I've never had a real good one? I tried making chocolate ones at home but can't get it right...maybe need more cream! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Flan is such a perfect summer dessert! This one looks perfect... I need to try making some soon.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Irina. It is a great alternative for summer, I agree. Hope you make some soon and I have a feeling you'd put your own creative spin on it.

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  6. I haven't eaten or made flan in ages and now you've set off a serious craving! I especially love that this is served cold...perfect for these absurdly hot days!

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    1. So, so hot! Shouldn't complain but have to just a little bit. Cold desserts are handy right now. There's always ice cream but it's good to have choices.

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    1. Awww...if you say so, Angie... : )

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  8. What beautiful flans! I've made them before but have the hardest time getting them unmolded. I'll have to try your recipe soon and hope that it works better than the last one I tried.

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    1. Thanks, Eva! I was nervous about turning them out since I'd never made it before but I was lucky. Just run a sharp knife all the way around and down the sides, give it a little shake and it just plops out in a couple of seconds! I saw on a show they said to take the knife and sort of poke it out if you need to so you can do that too...

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  9. I never made flan, but I know I would love it. Love how easy you make it seem with such a great end flan, thanks for sharing!

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    1. This was my first time with flan, too. I was reading up on it and trying to figure out the whole caramel thing but it's really not that crucial to get it perfect. Hope you give it a try one day...

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  10. I dearly love flan, crème brulee or any dessert with cooked eggs. I have never made flan but always wanted to. Now, I am going to get up enough nerve to try it soon. Thanks for the detailed recipe, saving it in my bookmarks!

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    1. Thank you! Glad you find it useful. What would we do without eggs?!

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  11. I love, love flan and you did a great job with these beauties in the ramekins. Thanks for sharing the recipe and tips. Thank you for the nice blog visit. Nice to meet you :-)

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    1. Thank you and same here! I love finding blogs with tasty Asian recipes I can make at home.

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  12. I love flan. This looks amazing.

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  13. This is one perfect flan! Loving this.

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  14. your flan is flawless, monica! i have never made one at home, but i really do enjoy them. I loved what you said about how you marvel sometimes at what an egg can do and create. I do the same thing: it's really amazing as i learn more about baking and cooking how flexible the egg really is. and egg custards? Love 'em. To the point where i can't make them and keep them in the house. :) This is beautiful; you give me hope that i can someday make a successful flan.

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    1. Shannon - you know I love my eggs! haha. I just adore egg custards and enjoy them really often. Too bad my little one is not a fan - he is missing out! These flans were really much easier than I feared. I'm sure you'd do a beautiful one when the time comes.

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  15. Such a classic dessert! I've always wanted to learn how to make it.

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    1. Same here...I wondered why I'd never made it but then I realized there are at least a million and two things I've never made!

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  16. Everything about this recipe has drawn me in. Flans have been on my bucket list for-ever! Yours is beautiful!

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    1. Thanks, Tricia! I have so many things on my "list" that I've decided not to even think about it and just go with whatever strikes me.

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  17. I was going through your blog and my son, loves this picture and he has got the eggs out to make it:)..that' the whole point of blog, inspiring.

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    1. I have a feeling I'd like your son very much! Reading your comment really made me smile. You are so right. I love reading food blogs and food websites for inspiration. I might not make the precise recipe but it gives me a ton of practical ideas. I wish you guys success with your flan. Thanks for stopping by! : )

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  18. Oh wow! Your flan looks simply delicious, Monica! Flan has always had a special place in my heart...In fact, it was one of the first desserts I ever fell in love with as a kid. Since then, my family has made flan using packages but never homemade! Thanks to your recipe, I think I'll have to give it a try now! (:

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    1. This is the first time I've ever heard of either pre-packaged flan or ones you can make from package mixes. Very interesting. Glad to hear I might have inspired you to make your own. I'm sure it will be doubly delicious from your own kitchen.

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  19. This Chilled Spanish flan sounds perfect on hot Summer days! Oh, restaurant work is hard work, but as you say, the food there must be the biggest reward. My best friend in Canada is a chef at a hotel restaurant. I know how hard things could be working there. Bravo to your brother worked there while going to school at the same time. :)

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    1. Thank you, Amy. I imagine the restaurant business is beyond tough. I took a 4-hour cooking class once and I'm ashamed to say that alone wiped me out! I couldn't imagine being on my feet, cooking, sweating for 12-hour days. I give all restaurateurs (everyone who works in one) a lot of credit! Thank goodness some are willing to do it.

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  20. Yay for easy to enjoy later desserts!

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    1. Yes...I'm totally loving leftovers and pre-made desserts during these summer days.

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  21. Very pretty and delicious looking flan. I am a huge fan of flan and pudding.
    I'm so glad that I've stumbled across
    you! .... You have such grear recipes. I'm fond of the stories that goes with each recipe.

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    1. Thank you for the sweet comment! I'm glad to hear you like flan - maybe you'll find time to try this one day. I have to say I'm partial to the chocolate one after just making it but this is a classic and easy to make. : )

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