Flan always reminds me of my grandmother, Corina. She is from Caracas, Venezuela. She and my grandfather, along with their two young children, moved to southern Missouri when she was in her late thirties, and she had to adapt to a completely new way of life. Not only did she move from a large city to a cattle farm in the country, she also moved to an area where no one spoke her native language. She was a brave soul.
My grandmother is not passionate about cooking, to say the least. She certainly has many passions in her life (including fashion, photography, her family, and her many, many animals), but cooking just isn't one of them. So weekends at her farm growing up meant a lot of frozen pizzas and Dollar General cereal. So it was a grandkid's dream! There were a few dishes she did get excited to prepare, and these stick out to me. One of these dishes was flan. This is not her recipe, though, as I have a feeling hers may have involved some kind of store-bought mix, but the flavor is all the same. I've fancied them up with spun sugar nests, but you can easily eat them without these special flourishes, and they are still totally delicious.
Flan with Crunchy Sugar Tops, makes 5-6 servings.
Adapted from The Perfect Flan by Epicurious
2 3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
For the spun sugar:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water
In a pot over low/medium heat stir together 2 3/4 cup milk with the salt and vanilla bean. Scrape the beans from the pod and whisk in, then toss in the pod. Remove from heat and allow that to steep for about 30 minutes while you prepare everything else.
In another small pot heat 1 cup sugar 1/3 cup water over medium/high heat. Whisk until the sugar fully dissolves. Heat just until the mixture begins to turn brown. Remove from heat and pour the hot sugar mixture into 5-6 ramekin or small heat-proof bowls.
In a large mixing bowl stir together the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve, removing any clumps and the vanilla bean pod. Stir the cooled milk mixture in with the yolks. Pour this mixture over the slightly cooled ramekins (filled with the browned sugar). Place in a baking dish. Fill the dish with water so the water level reaches halfway up the ramekins. Bake at 350°F for 50-55 minutes until the custard is set (it will still have a slight jiggle in the center). Allow these to cool for a couple hours, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight (up to two days).
Now let's make crunchy sugar nests! First prepare your work surface. Place a few small bowls down on a cutting board. Lightly oil them. Also be sure your work surface is covered with plastic wrap or wax paper in case some of your sugar gets off the cutting board.
In a small pot, stir together the 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up and use a candy thermometer to check the sugar's temperature. Once it reaches 300°F, remove from the stove top. Allow the mixture to cool to around 280°F.
Dip a fork in the mixture. Pull the sugar up over the oiled bowls and wave it around, like a wand. This will stretch the sugar and give it time to cool some as it drops toward the bowls. I like to wear an oven mit while I do this. Always be careful when you work with really hot sugar. Once that cools, lightly oil your clean hands and gently work the spun sugar off the bowls. Lightly press to form small nests; place over the tops of your inverted flans.
I would put this in the category of you're-really-going-to-impress-guests with these if you go all out and do the crunch sugar tops. Plus I really love the crunch paired with the smooth texture of the flan. It's very crème brûlée. Yum! Enjoy. xo. Emma
Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Emma Chapman. Photos edited with Imogen from the Folk Collection.