Sunday, December 9, 2007


In keeping with the Mexican orientation of the party food and needing something more on the sweet side of the divide, I whipped up a flan. I've been making this for about 10 years and have tried various formulations, but I keep coming back to this one from Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking.

I use the Coffee Flan recipe, usually without the coffee flavoring (though it's virtually identical to the regular flan recipe on the previous page in the book). But the coffee version is tasty as well.

I made this for the second time was in my corporate apartment in St. Louis about 11 years ago. There is a long and embarrassing story about that event, but I learned four things from the experience:

  1. Don't trust cats.

  2. Always (and I can't stress this enough), always keep a box of toothpicks in your kitchen for testing doneness.

  3. Plexiglas really is pretty much unbreakable.

  4. This recipe goes from good to absolutely perfect if you add about 90 minutes to the baking time (keeping the water in the bath filled).

In every flan recipe I've read, they always said to not stir the sugar as you're making the caramel. I've resisted that before, but because of what I've learned about saute'ing I figured I'd give it a shot. Stirring releases needed heat when caramelizing (proteins and sugars). I think I was always afraid that I'd end up with incredibly burnt sugar on the bottom and uncooked on top. I tried it and, sure enough, it worked. I did let it go a little longer than usual and got a darker syrup than usual, having noticed Kennedy's recommendation for exactly that.

The result worked very, very well. The flavor was more intense and not so cloyingly sweet. I was pleased at how well this worked as a party food. I served from a single platter, rather than individual servings, but people went with it and ate the entire thing.

Two more notes about flan:

  1. I've tried several other recipes over the years which usually had sweetened condensed milk in them. I guess that's essentially what you're making in the first step of this recipe, but this seems to work much better.
  2. Trying to get the caramelized sugar into individual ramekins in a nightmare. I tried doing 12 once and either the sugar seizes up after only a few or it's burning while you try to keep it fluid. Screw it. Just make the big one.

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