All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast. ~John Gunther

Sunday, March 9, 2008

creme caramel

A few weeks ago, my friend Chloe and I made creme caramel aka flan to be the finale of our taco dinner. (I'll try and post about the tacos later.)

My mom taught me to make this - my favorite desert - when I was in high school. You can make it in individual cups, but it is easier, and I think more fun, to make one big creme caramel. The recipe we use is basically the recipe from cooks' illustrated.

The easy part is making the custard. From the Cooks' Illustrated recipe:
1.5 c. whole milk
1.5 c. light cream
3 lg. eggs
2 lg. egg yolks
2/3 c. sugar
1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Heat milk and cream, stirring occasionally, in medium saucepan over medium heat until steam appears and/or an instant-read thermometer held in the liquid registers 160 degrees, 6 to 8 minutes; remove from heat. Meanwhile, gently whisk eggs, yolks, and sugar in large bowl until just combined. Off heat, gently whisk warm milk mixture, salt, and vanilla into eggs until just combined but not at all foamy. Strain mixture through fine mesh sieve into large measuring cup or container with pouring spout.

Sometimes the flan has a lot of bubbles in it. This is not ideal, but I am not sure how to prevent it - my theories are that you need an evenly temperatured oven or that you have to be very careful not to make the custard mix foamy. Really though, I have no idea.

The caramel, for me, is the tricky part. I generally make my flan in a bread-loaf pan. it's nice because you end up with a "loaf" of flan - easy to cut, easy to plate, and pretty elegant looking. However, my mom's vaunted strategy of making the caramel in the loaf pan did not work for me at all this time. I think my burners were just not wide enough - some of the sugar was burning while other parts hadn't even melted.

We deviate from the cook's illustrated version somewhat on this because we don't use water. For the moment, I advise making the caramel in a saucepan and then pouring it into the pan you'll make the flan in. you can do this the day before if you want.

For the caramel, put 2 tablespoons of corn syrup in the bottom of the pan and try to spread it around evenly by tipping the pan around (don't put anything in there - corn syrup is really sticky!). Then add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice. Finally spread 1 cup of sugar evenly over the top. Now put the saucepan over low heat and watch it like a hawk. Do not stir. the mixture should start to liquefy and darken. You should swirl the pan around a bit so that all parts get cooked pretty evenly. as soon as everything is liquid, as long as it is at least a little bit brown - it is done. Turn off the burner, and immediately pour the caramel into the pan you're going to cook the flan in. If you burn the sugar, you are screwed - you should start over. I should point out that while making flan this time, we burned three sets of caramel before we got it right. Chloe was very saintly about cleaning out the loaf pans. also, at one point, I caught a paper towel on fire. It was kind of awkward.

let the caramel harden in the bottom of the loaf pan, then pour the custard mixture on top of it.

Now you have to prepare the flan for cooking.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
pull out one of the shelves in the oven and place a large roasting pan (or in my case this time, a rectangular casserole, onto the shelf - first lining it with a dishcloth folded to lay flat on the bottom.

Set a full tea kettle to boil.

set the flan in its loaf pan in the center of the casserole dish. When the water in the kettle boils, pour it into the roasting pan until it goes about 2/3 of the way up the flan. then push in the rack and bake for 75 minutes.

when the flan is ready, remove it from the water bath, set it on the counter/stove, and let it set for a few minutes. Then put it in the refrigerator so that it can cool further. when the pan is cool to the touch, it is probably ready. it is fine to give it more time though. *Just* before serving you should unmold the flan. run a very sharp knife around the edge of the flan. With some assistance, if possible, lay the platter that you plan to serve the flan on on top of the loaf pan. Flip the platter and loaf pan over so that the open side of the loaf pan, which is touching the top of the platter, is facing down. Let it sit for a few moments and then gently shake flan until it comes free and is laying on the platter, caramel side up. pour any remaining caramel over the flan (it should sort of swim in it.)

Now you can slice the flan and serve it. make sure to spoon lots of caramel on top! I will have to make this again soon so that there can be pictures. It was really yummy though!

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