Thursday, 27 September 2012
I know, I mostly only blog the recipes that actually turn out, but there are dishes that I tried to make that ended up less than perfect. Caramel Flan is one of them. For those who are not familiar with flan, it is a baked egg custard dessert with a caramel topping. The ingredients are simple and easily found in typical supermarkets. You can often buy a prepared flan in some supermarkets in the bakery section, and it is a popular dessert found in Mexican restaurants. Usually the flan is very firm and very sweet. I decided to set out to make my own, a little less sweet, and a little softer and creamier. I started with this Mexican Flan recipe. I didn't like the idea of using canned evaporated milk to make my flan so I substituted an equal amount of fresh whole milk in my dish. I don't have pictures of all the tries, so please try to imagine what kind of a mess I made while making the caramel.
Well, let's get to the trials and tribulations in making the caramel topping:
Try #1: 1 cup dry sugar in a heavy small skillet over medium heat. Sugar did not melt for a long time, and when the edges did start to melt, it melted unevenly. I've read several methods/recipes that stated that I should not stir the sugar until any circumstance during the caramel making process. The sugar at the edges of the pan did dissolve and brown but the sugar in the center did not. I tried swirling the pan to try to incorporate the sugar as suggested but the melted sugar only enveloped the dry sugar. FAIL!
Try #2: Since try #1 was so disappointed, I consulted a friend who graduated from the patisserie program from a prestigious culinary school about my dilemma. He suggested I try the wet method. Pour sugar into a pan; cover with a little water. Cook. Don't stir. Yeah. See picture below for the crusty, crystallized mess I created. FAILED TWICE!
Try #3: I was determined to make it happen...so try 3 looked a lot like try #2. I figured there was a grain that was stuck on the side of the pan and "contaminated" the whole thing. THREE TIMES?!
Try #4: I tried the dry method. The same thing happened again as try #1. FOURTH FAILURE!
Try #5: I decided to try the dry method one more time, but with less sugar. The sugar started dissolving slowly so I turned away for a while. When I came back, I got this burnt sugar, pictured below. I thought...it should be okay, right? REALLY, NOW? FIVE TIMES?!!?
Burnt sugar. Very burnt.
Burnt sugar poured and swirled to cover bottom of 8" cake pan. The recipe below fits in a 9" round cake pan instead if an 8". I filled what I could in the 8" pan and poured the rest into ramekins without the caramelized sugar.
The custard mixture of sweetened condensed milk, whole milk, eggs and vanilla extract.
Custard mixture poured into pan and baked in an 300°F oven, with the pan a hot water bath.
Flan cooled and chilled in the refrigerator overnight. Use a small knife to loosen flan around edges. Invert a plate over pan and while holding pan and plate together; flip over. Remove pan and serve. This time the caramel was too burnt, which made it a bitter. Some of my coworkers liked it and the others didn't.
The next time I made the flan again, I decided to stick around and pay attention. I also reduced the sugar a bit more, so now I typically make the caramel with only 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar.
Slice of flan! Perfectly creamy, soft and caramel in flavor. I know, some people like it firmer, sweeter and maybe even bubbly. This is how I prefer flan.
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Heat the oven to 300°F. Take out a 9" cake pan with 2" high sides. Have a large roasting pan ready. I put a wire rack in the pan so the hot water can flow underneath the pan rather than just around the sides.
Place sugar in a small to medium heavy skillet. Spread sugar to cover the bottom of the pan evenly. Heat pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and caramelizes to a deep amber color. Do not disturb or stir. If there is a little sugar in the center that has not dissolved after several minutes, you can pick up the pan and swirl it around a bit. Immediately pour the melted sugar into the cake pan and swirl pan to coat bottom as best you could. The sugar may not cover the entire bottom, but that is okay. Set pan aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk or using electric mixer, whip eggs just until yolks and whites are evenly blended. Whisk in sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Stir in whole milk. Pour egg mixture into cake pan over caramel. Place cake pan carefully into the roasting pan. Place the roasting pan in the oven on the middle rack. Pour hot tap water into the roasting pan carefully. Be sure not to get any hot water into the custard filled cake pan. Close oven and bake 40 to 60 minutes or until the custard still wiggles a bit when the pan is shifted. Remove custard filled cake pan from roasting pan and hot water and refrigerate until cold, several hours or overnight.
Loosen flan around edges with small sharp knife. Invert a serving plate or platter over cake pan. While holding pan and plate together firmly, flip both over together. Remove pan and serve flan.
I've made flan with nonfat milk as well. Milk with just about any degree of fat works in this recipe. The more fat the milk contains, the richer the dessert. For 1% and nonfat milk, I would use 6 instead of 5 eggs.
Do you like baked custard desserts?