For this month's Sugar High Fridays, Debbie of Words to Eat By chose Caramel as her theme. For my official entry I've chosen a recipe that I'm quite familiar as it has been in my family for years and it is loved by all. A rich and smooth (not at all gelatinous or light) Cheese Flan or Flan de Queso as it is known in Spain.
There are as may variation of flan as there are households and countries that have made this dessert their own. Then there are the modified versions of flan: coconut flan, flan de dulce de leche, flan de queso de cabra, pumpkin flan, pineapple flan, flan de naranja. All of these are made with the basic recipe of milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla with added fruit or vegetable purée.
Then there are the modified versions that include Queso Caraqueño or Flan Napolitano that are even richer with the addition of almonds and cracker meal or that up the amount of eggs to 8 or 9 (whole eggs or a mix of yolk and white proportions).
My flan de queso recipe happens to be one of my sister's favorite desserts to prepare and I've still to find a better version than hers. Whenever I've made it, it has been a hit at every dinner party we've served it at and dessert party I've ever taken it to.
It is very easy to prepare too. With easy to find ingredients and basically four steps.
- Making the custard
- Making the caramel
- Baking by bain marie
- Flipping the flan
There is also another step, the eating of the flan part which is the easiest of all and requires no explanation. ;-D
Preparing the caramel can be the hardest (or most painful) part for some but once you get the handle of it you won't forget. One cup of sugar, no water. It just takes patience, a good pan, the right whisk and constant stirring at medium heat.
Your eye will tell you when the caramel is ready by the beautiful golder color it achieves. The trick is to work quickly with it before it hardens.
The resulting caramel will be thick and gooey but not super sticky. It will have a beautiful flavor, like burnt sugar but without the bitterness of caramel that has been overcooked or burnt. And when it runs down the sides of the flan it will be a thing of beauty. Just make sure every slice you serve has a little caramelo on the side and a bit on top to make the surface of the slice glisten.
Flan de Queso
For the custard:
1 can of evaporated milk
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
5 large eggs
8 oz softened cream cheese
1 teaspoon very good vanilla
1 tablespoon good cognac, brandy or dark rum
For the caramel:
1 cup ultrafine sugar
Mix all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Set aside in the refrigerator while you prepare the caramel.
Slowly and very carefully melt one cup of superfine sugar into a heavy bottomed stainless pan at medium high heat to get it started. Lower heat to medium, slowly stirring sugar using a wooden spoon or whisk to incorporate small amounts of the sugar, making sure it is fully dissolved before adding a bit more.
Lower the temperature and cook until the sugar turns to a beautiful golden brown color but does not burn or gets too dark. Carefully but swiftly (caramel hardens really quick) tip the pan around to coat the sides (away from you).
Pour the flan mixture in the caramel (caramelo) coated mold or pan. Bake using the Bain Marie (baño de María or water bath method) in a 375F oven for about 60 minutes or until wooden skewer inserted near center comes out clean. Depending on your oven, altitude, pan, etc, it might take a bit longer to be ready. Test doneness about every 5-10 minutes until it is set but a bit wobbly to avoid over-baking the custard as the flan might crack.
Remove flan from oven and let cool a bit. Run the same skewer around the rim and using a large enough round serving plate to assist you, flip over the flan. Be careful as the caramel might still be warm and it will run along the sides of the flan. Refrigerate for a few hours--or overnight--before serving.
Serve as is or garnish with finely cubed ripe fresh mango that's been macerated in a bit of very good rum and a little orange zest. Fresh whipped cream will also work just fine. :-)
*When making caramel it really helps to keep a bowl of ice water right next to the stove, just in case.
***I bake all my flans using a modified Bain Marie because I have a 2-qt. Sauté Pan w/Cover that works great and use exclusively for this purpose. I prepare the caramel stove-top in this pan and pour the custard into it. Then place the pan in a large roasting pan (for roasting turkeys) that has been filled with water to two-thirds of the way.
****To clean a caramel coated mold or pan fill with the hottest water available. It will dissolve the caramel as it cools.
In Seattle, the best flan I've ever had used to be found at Cactus in Madison Park. The restaurant has changed hands and chefs (head chef Maritza Texeira --also of Gitano-- opened her own restaurant, Buena Vista in North Lake Union, last year) so I am not sure if they still use the same recipe. Buenos Aires Grill also serves a flan generously garnished with homemade dulce de leche. It is less rich than I'm used to and the dulce de leche makes it too sweet even for my very sweet tooth. Still very good if a lighter, airier flan is what you look for.
In Seattle, the best flan I've ever had used to be found at Cactus in Madison Park. The restaurant has changed hands and chefs (head chef Maritza Texeira --also of Gitano-- opened her own restaurant, Buena Vista in North Lake Union, last year) so I am not sure if they still use the same recipe.
Buenos Aires Grill also serves a flan generously garnished with homemade dulce de leche. It is less rich than I'm used to and the dulce de leche makes it too sweet even for my very sweet tooth. Still very good if a lighter, airier flan is what you look for.