Friday, July 31, 2009

World's Best Mexican Flan

Every good recipe has a story behind it. This one is no exception.

I craved flan while pregnant with Phoebe. Crème brûlée could tied me over, but in the back of my head that Mexican flan kept calling to me. Smooth, milky custard with that caramelized sugar coating. Yummy. The problem is that all the flan I could get my hands on was watery, lumpy, bland, and sorely lacking in caramelized sauce. And then I realized what the real problem was - I was craving my grandmother's flan.

That isn't a bad thing. Granny was recognized as our family's best cook. She went on to easily win the title from everyone else who ate her food. Granny loved to cook, and enjoyed trying out new recipes and combinations. Nothing intimidated her. But Granny died in 2005, leaving me quite helpless to get my hands on a piece of her flan. However, her recipes lived on, and I mentioned to my mom a few weeks ago about my desire to find this particular one. Jackpot! My aunt, who carries on the cooking legend, had it and was scheduled for a visit.

Auntie Gail, along with my mom, came over yesterday to keep me company. Gail offered to cook for me! She also told me she brought the recipe, and would make the flan for dessert! Mmmmm... the smells of pot roast bubbling on the stove, laughing with my mom and aunt as the two of them tried to work together... in a kitchen... that wasn't theirs... created a wonderful afternoon. Then it was time to fix the flan.


My aunt was tenderly caring for the sugar that had to be caramelized in a cast iron pot. No exceptions on the pot. She explained that Granny learned it was the best place to manage the process. So while she stirred and stirred my mom and I were left to put together the custard. We were laughing so hard at my mom's effort to use my can opener that when we finally got around to combining the ingredients we just started dumping everything in sight. Oops. The first can of evaporated milk was fine, but that second was not.

Gail suddenly looked up. "Did you just put both cans in?" We had. And as Murphy's Law would have it we put them in over the 4 eggs, 2 egg yolks, and one can of sweetened condensed milk. The recipe was ruined, as would the mashed potatoes be if we didn't replace their can of evaporated milk. Thankfully my mom already knew she needed to run to the store for bacon (Gail's bacon, onion, and brown sugar green beans were also on the menu). Off she flew, and returned with the replacement cans of milk. We had, fortunately, saved the whipping cream from loss having caught the mistake before adding it.


I was nursing Phoebe when my mom returned, but had already diligently prepared the eggs for round two. Gail was left to manage the blender. How hard is it to manage a blender? Don't answer that. All the ingredients were combined into a smooth batter when Gail turned my blender carafe in an effort to release it from the base. The problem is that my carafe doesn't lock onto my base with a turn, it simply sits over the motor. Turning it disassembles the sealing disk from the bottom of the container, and before we knew what happened Gail let out a yelp as custard batter poured from the hole in the bottom of the pitcher. Back to the store -after we cleaned up the gooey mess oozing all over the counter and floor.


Again, I carefully prepared the eggs, adding the vanilla so when the cans of milk (along with the carton of heavy whipping cream) arrived we could get right to work. The caramelized sugar coated bowl sat near by, in case the kids tried to ruin, err, touch it again. I was in charge of the blender, so that any mishaps would be directly my fault, rather than just implied. We nearly lost the brew in another blender debacle. The flan has to bake in a water bath, which nearly became a water deluge. And Leah, who scrutinized every stage of production was particularly underfoot when we went to put the whole thing into the oven. My analog clock is breaking, and won't keep an accurate time so half way through baking I realized Gail was using it interchangeably with the digital clock. For a panicked second we thought we lost the whole kit and caboodle due to improper time management. But in the end it came out alive!


We waited until all the kids were in bed before serving out the flan. Gail, as Granny would do, was stubbornly objective in her self-critique. The sugar and custard could have cooked for 5 minutes less, was the consensus. Hey, if that's the ONLY thing you can come up with after our experience then I think congratulations are in order. I found it to be delectable, smooth, rich and creamy. It only took a year, and my daughter was already 3 months old, but I finally got my piece of flan.

Here is the recipe in case you too decide that only flan will do.

Old Fashioned Flan by Olive Hyler
-1 cup white sugar heated in a cast iron skillet until melted - stirring constantly. Pour into a 2qt round glass baking dish, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside on a hot pad so you don't crack the glass.

Place the following in a blender, and process (not whip) thoroughly
-14 oz can sweet condensed milk
-5 oz can evaporated milk
-1 cup whipping cream
-4 eggs
-2 egg yolks
-1/2 tsp vanilla

Pour into bowl with caramelized sugar. Place bowl into a hot water bath, making sure water level comes at least 3/4 of the way up the bowl. Bake in preheated oven at 325 for 1 and 1/2 hours. If the top is browning to quickly you can cover it with foil (probably not necessary). Remove from oven and bath to allow to cool. When ready to serve loosen the caramel from the sides of the pan with a knife, then place a flat dish over the top, and flip the bowl upside down to release the flan. Pour the excess sauce over the top. Extra can be covered and refrigerated for a delicious treat the following day!

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