Friday, April 8, 2016

Josefina's Flan

Some good, old fashioned health food that's now better known as a tasty dessert!

Now that I've been doing this blog for over two years, I've become pretty comfortable going out on a limb and trying things I never would've thought of tackling before. Sometimes, this means I need to get creative in the kitchen, and it doesn't always work out as well as I would've hoped.

That's not exactly what happened here, but there were a couple speed bumps along the way in making this classic custardy treat. I'd never had flan before, and I didn't know much about it besides it's something that usually shows up on dessert menus at Mexican restaurants. Could be fun to try, right?

It turns out flan is one of those dishes that has a crazy long history. The Romans were actually super into eggs, and loved eating them in the form of what are essentially flan. Of course, this doesn't just mean caramel, spice or citrus flans, but fun recipes like eel flan! Maybe some jellyfish in there too, why not! The Romans ate weird things. Although they'd probably find what we eat weird, too.

Because the Romans spent a lot of time totally running the show in Europe, people all over their version of the known world were introduced to their favorite foods. After Rome fell, flan was one of the dishes that stuck around to be tweaked and improved on over the decades, with various regional varieties remaining popular up to modern day. Thankfully flan caught on and not garrum! That was always a fun one to threaten to bring in to my Latin class. Who doesn't love decayed fish guts?

Flan was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, and has been happily adopted as a favorite dessert. Back in the Middle Ages, people thought flan was a health food and talked about it being good for your chest, kidneys and liver. The fact that it was meat free also made it a popular dish to have during Lent, or other meatless days as designated by Catholicism. Since the Spanish were (and are) a very Catholic country, it makes sense they would've brought one of their favorite meatless recipes with them, right?

The classic flan is a solid custard with a caramel topping, and from what I can tell, there's a specific kind of pan you're supposed to use to make it. I'm not going to go out and buy a specific pan for something I'm not sure I'm ever going to make again, so I had to turn to the internet to find something that I could use instead. A glass pie pan was suggested, and fortunately I do have one of those. Unfortunately, it's not exactly the correct size or shape in some ways (although both things are flexible depending on your flan recipe), so I think this might have caused a bit of a problem for me later on. You'll see.

Anyway, the recipe I used presented itself as an authentic Mexican flan recipe, and it sounded good, so I decided to give it a try. You can find it at!

To start, you take a cup of white sugar and melt it down on the stove. This isn't all that different from the burnt sugar cake I made last year. You cook it over medium-high heat, watch it like a hawk and always, always keep stirring it to make sure it doesn't burn. When it turns dark and all the crystals are melted, you can put it in your flan mold (or pie pan...). This needs to cool down before you add in your custard, otherwise it'll mess up your eggs.

In a mixing bowl, I put 1 cup of whole milk, 14 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (so, one can), 3 eggs, 3 egg yolks (you don't need to save the egg whites unless your mom wants them for her breakfast the following morning), 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch together and got out my favorite kitchen tool: my immersion blender. I blended everything until the mixture was smooth as instructed, poured in a cup of heavy cream and got that mixed in, and then poured the future custard into the pie pan.

Here's where we got a little MacGyver-ish. Apparently, it's better to cook a flan in a water bath, and while I've done some weird stuff in the kitchen, I'd never done this before. I got out a large roasting pan, put a damp cloth towel in the bottom of it and put in my pie dish. The roasting pan then got put in a 350 degree oven, and boiling water got poured in until it reached up to about halfway up the pan.

This cooks in the oven for somewhere between 45 minutes or an hour. I read that it's okay if there's still some wiggle, because it'll solidify while it's cooling down.

This needs to chill in the fridge for about four hours. Unfortunately, I had to go to to my grandparent's house halfway through the process, so mine spent about fifteen minutes sitting on my lap halfway through its cooling time. Obviously, Josefina and NiƱa tagged along with me to finish taking pictures. They couldn't not be there when we tried popping it out of the pan!

I was a little worried that taking the flan out of the pie pan would be really hard, or end in a ripped up, messy flan, but it actually came out pretty easily, and it didn't break! I just ran a knife carefully around the edge of the pan - very carefully, because it is a little bit delicate - inverted it over a plate, and hoped for the best. When I moved the pan, everything came out!

Except for most of the caramel. About half of it was welded to the top of my pie pan, and most of the rest of it spilled out over the sides. I'm not sure if this is what it's supposed to do, considering most of the flans I've seen at restaurants have toppings that are considerably less runny. There was also a weird air bubble in one part of the custard, but everything else seemed more or less okay. I was bummed about the topping, though. The caramel promised to be the tastiest part of the dessert for me, and I wanted more of it to stick to my slice!

Cutting it was a bit of a challenge. It's definitely fragile, and I kind of mangled my piece. Also, a very small part of my slice didn't seem to solidify all the way through, even though every other piece was totally solid and fine. Weird, right? Don't know why that happened.

Despite looking a little weird, it did taste good! I've never actually had a flan before, so I'm not sure how it compares to authentic Mexican (or Spanish, or Roman, or wherever else) flan, but my other taste testers really liked it, too! All the leftovers were gone within a day, which is always a good sign. I guess I'll have to go out and try someone else's flan and see how it compares.

Although this did have a couple not as fun parts - the super runny topping and not totally cooked center, as well as the fact that the other caramel took forever to clean off the pan (sorry, Mom!) - for the most part, this was a lot easier than I expected it to be. I'm sure it'd be even easier if I actually had the proper equipment to make it. I'm still not sure I can justify going out and buying a flan mold, but it's always neat to find out you can cobble together something from your standard baking or cooking supplies, and I had a good time cooking and eating something super new and different. It's such a good feeling when things actually work out after you get out of your comfort zone!

Make a special flan wish!


  1. Hey I love flan! My friend Sunny's mom makes it!

    *From Julie's doll mom:*

    I'm from NYC and grew up w/ lotsa Puerto Rican friends, so I'm totally familiar w/ flan. Depending on where you live, you can also find it in the boxed pudding section of your grocery store. Not as good as authentic, but still yummy. If you go to DollysDiningroom(dot)com you'll find flan for dolls (which is what Julie was talking about. (Under Dinner, subheading Mexican).

    1. Oh awesome! We will definitely check that out. :D

  2. I have had my fair share of flan over the years. Your version was scrumptious! It was creamy without being overly rich. Delicious!

    1. Thank you! I'm glad you liked it.