Creme Caramel (a.k.a. Flan)

I absolutely LOVE flan–the custard so creamy while the caramel so gently contrasts with the custard to add a sweetness that makes my mouth water. Mmmmmm…just had to try this recipe. Moreover, as the featured item on the cover of The  New Best Recipe from America’s Test Kitchen, it kept taunting my sweet tooth every time I picked up the book. What better reason to test it out than as a New Year’s Eve dessert for me and hubby? Of course, I never need a reason to cook up something sweet; the special occasion was simply an excuse to appease the guilt for consuming way too many desserts during the holiday season.

I always imagined flan to be difficult to make. How wrong I was! Unbelievably easy.

I started by making the caramel topping for the flan, and here is a silly little revelation I had, which I’m almost embarrassed to share, but here goes anyway: when the recipe says “medium-high heat,” I realized I can use the numbers on my burner knobs to figure out when the flame is actually medium-high. You see, my burner knobs have the numbers 1-10 around them along with the word “high” and “lo” at either end of the numbers. Logically, a 5 would equate to medium, so between 7-8 would equate to medium high. LIGHTBULB moment!! Up to this point of the caramel process, I had been using a flame too low, more on the medium range. No wonder when the recipe states that it would take 8 minutes to brown the caramel it took more like 20 for me!  What a difference the flame degree makes. Hopefully sharing this embarrassing  oversight will help others out there in the cooking world.

Did the caramel work? It hardened almost immediately after pouring it into the ramekins, and I was concerned after I realized my mistake in flame usage. However, once the flans were ready for eating, I was excited to see the light brown caramel sauce fall out of the ramekin along with the custard; I hadn’t destroyed the dessert after all! I did notice, though, that a layer of hardened caramel still rested on the bottom of the ramekins, meaning I could have possibly enjoyed even more of the sweetness had I cooked it following the recipe directions more exactly.

I also forgot to cover the pan with foil, and I think this might have something to do with the bubbly look around the flan. I know it is supposed to have a smooth appearance, but it certainly didn’t impact the flavor.

The recipe calls for eight 6-ounce ramekins; however, I used eleven 4-ounce ramekins because that is what I had in my cupboards. I now understand why the recipe calls for larger ramekins: mine were so tiny that the flans were not even an inch high. They looked so puny and sad; nonetheless, they still tasted deliciously smooth and sweet. Bigger ramekins next time, for sure! And yes, there will be a next time.

Creme Caramel (a.k.a. Flan)

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INGREDIENTS

CARAMEL

  • 1 cup (7 oz) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice

CUSTARD

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups light cream (I used 1 cup light and 1/2 cup heavy since I ran out of light cream)
  • 3 large eggs, plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup (4 2/3 oz) sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

DIRECTIONS

CARAMEL

  1. In medium saucepan, bring sugar, water, corn syrup, and lemon juice to simmer, without stirring, over medium-high heat, wiping sides of pan with wet cloth to remove sugar crystals that might cause syrup to turn grainy. Continue to cook until syrup turns from clear to golden, gently swirling pan to ensure even browning, about 8 minutes.
  2. Continue to cook, swirling pan gently and constantly, until large, slow bubbles on the mixture’s surface turn honey-caramel in color, 4-5 minutes longer.
  3. Remove pan immediately from heat, and working quickly but carefully (the caramel is above 300 degrees and will burn if it touches your skin, so keep bowl of ice water nearby), pour a portion of the caramel into each of 8 ungreased 6-ounce ovenproof ramekins.
  4. Allow the caramel to cool and harden, about 15 minutes. (The caramel-coated ramekins can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days; return to room temperature before adding custard.)

CUSTARD

  1. Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Heat milk and cream in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until steam appears and/or an instant-read thermometer held in the liquid registers 160 degrees, 6-8 minutes; remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, gently whisk eggs, yolks, and sugar in large bowl until just combined.
  4. Back to milk and cream mixture: Off the heat, gently whisk the warm milk mixture, vanilla, and salt into eggs until just combined but not at all foamy.
  5. Strain mixture through fine-mesh sieve into large measuring cup or container with pouring spout; set aside.
  6. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a kettle.
  7. Meanwhile, fold a dish towel to fit into bottom of a large baking dish or roasting pan and position it in pan (or, you can use a silpat mat if you have one). [Although this step seems odd, it helps absorb some of the heat and presents the custards from overcooking.]
  8. Divide the reserved custard mixture among the ramekins; place the filled ramekins on the towel in the pan (making sure they do not touch) and set the pan on the oven rack.
  9. Fill pan with boiling water to reach halfway up sides of ramekins; cover entire pan loosely with aluminum foil so steam can escape.
  10. Bake until a paring knife inserted halfway between center and edge of custard comes out clean, 35-40 minutes.
  11. Transfer custards to wire rack; cool to room temperature. Custards can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days.
  12. To unmold, slide a paring knife around perimeter of each ramekin, pressing the knife against the side of the dish. Hold a serving plate over top of ramekin and invert; set the plate on the work surface and shake the ramekin gently to release custard. Serve immediately.

SOURCE: The New Recipe Book (pgs. 958-960)

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