We inherited flans from many cultural influences. Back in Roman times people would make savory flans from the surplus of eggs and other ingredients in their “pantry” (spices, spinach, honey, eel, etc.). Centuries later in Spain and France, sweet flans started to flourish with caramel syrup as well as with other spices and nuts like almonds that the Moors (north africans, muslims and arabs) brought with them to the Iberian peninsula. Now flans are popular desserts in Latin American countries and are known worldwide. I dare to say that some sort of flan is offered in the dessert menu of almost every restaurant in Puerto Rico!
Note: The detachable baking dish used for making quiche is called a “flan tin” because in England open pastries filled with savory fillings are also called flans.
This recipe for simple Vanilla Flan is the basis for many variations. There is cheese flan, coconut flan, pumpkin flan, pear flan, guava flan, basil flan, strawberry flan and the list keeps going on and on like Bubba (inside joke for those of you who have seen the movie Forest Gump). Anyway, it is a simple dessert to make and a crowd pleaser. Of course, flan is always made in bain-marie to successfully make the custard. FYI, the bain-marie allows the flan to cook evenly in the center without creating a crust on the outside. I use a 9 inch round metal mold with a hole in the middle, but you may also use an 8- 9 inch round crystal Pyrex or metal mold or double the recipe and make a large rectangular crystal mold. Serve with mint, berries, ice cream, whipped cream or alone. Sometimes I over beat mixture and the vanilla flan has small holes inside, but it won’t alter the taste just the texture. The flans I make that include mascarpone or cream cheese are always creamier (like cheesecake) and also delicious (will post recipes in the near future).
About 5 years ago, we rented a house in Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic for a summer vacation. Our beautiful house had great accommodations, a beautiful view and a great cook. One day Josefina made vanilla flan for our group and, you know me, always looking to learn new things in the kitchen, saw that she splashed dark rum and lemon zest in the vanilla flan mixture. That detail elevated the flan from good to outstanding giving it a lovely after taste! She made it almost everyday after that. We returned back to Puerto Rico rested, relaxed and with about 2-3 more pounds!
Here is my recipe for Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla). Enjoy!
Vanilla Flan (Flan de Vainilla)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1 12 fl. oz can evaporated milk
1/2 cup fresh milk
1 tsp dark rum
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
dash of salt
1. Preheat oven 350º F.
2. To make caramel put sugar in a sauce pan (I melt it directly in my metal mold in the stove top) and heat (med) until sugar starts to melt and turns light-medium brown in color. About 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Then pour into baking mold immediately making sure the bottom and sides of the mold are covered with some caramel. Let rest for a few minutes to harden a bit. Note: make sure you are not distracted or have children running around in the kitchen while you are making caramel, it is very hot and can cause serious burns on the skin.
3. In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk or electric mixer with whisk attachment. Add milks, vanilla, salt and rum and beat until fully incorporated. (DO NOT OVER BEAT SO THAT YOU DON’T GET AIR BUBBLES INSIDE THE FLAN). Pass mixture through a strainer. Add lemon zest and lightly mix with a fork or spoon into mixture.
4. Pour mixture over caramel in baking mold. Place mold in lower portion of broiler pan or roast pan and fill with hot water that comes almost half way up the sides of the baking pan to create a bain-marie or “baño de maría”.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a knife in the middle. It should come out clean.
6. Let cool on your counter top a bit before you cover with foil paper and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
7. To serve, take out of refrigerator and let rest for about 15 minutes. With a knife or spatula carefully separate flan from sides of the pan (inside as well if using pan with a hole in the middle). You will notice caramel will come up the sides once it is separated and ready to turn over.
8. Place serving dish on top of baking pan and turn over quickly. Scrape remaining caramel with a spatula and pour over flan. Serve chilled. (If you are going to put it in the refrigerator, cover so that it doesn’t become dry or hard).