Homemade custard: the tricks to get
a wonderful millennial dessert
The “homemade flan” of egg is, without a doubt, the quintessential Spanish dessert. Nothing reminds me more of my childhood than this dessert, a regular at my house especially when we were sick; thus a strong cold was always accompanied by a good flan. Custard is one of those cheap, delicious, and wildly popular family desserts; I always compare it to the daisy, a modest, cheap, charming and beautiful flower. I have loved since I was a child that ancient combination of milk, eggs and honey, attributed to the Romans in the first centuries of our era, in a first salty form, which survived the fall of the Roman Empire, to become a sweet version in the Middle Ages, which the Spanish after the discovery of America, we ended up syruping with caramel, and Muslims sophisticated with citrus and almond. But basically, flan has kept its ingredients and technique for more than twenty centuries, and there is no European country that does not have its own version (crème Brûlée, cream caramel, cream custard, pudim flan, etc. and even in Japanese giga pudim).
My mother made flan like no one else, well not exactly like anyone else, because her recipe belonged to a great friend who still remembers herself as the maker of the best flan in the Galician-Asturian zone. When I refer to a homemade dish, I can never remove myself to old memories, and with the flan even more. I always had the feeling that children had “friends and friends” and older people had “friends”. My parents always talked about their friends, never about their friends. At that time, I had many friends, and a “friend of the soul”, who was that person whom you fully trust and whom you love and admire in a very special way (the verb “admire”, in this case, is essential) . It was evident that my mother, a sociable and generous person, had many friends, but in what I remember only a “friend of the soul”, a charming mother of a large family, who she was, without a doubt, the recently mentioned “guru” of flan preparation. My mother spoke of her with a genuine and rare affection and admiration in her, and later I think that what made her so special, apart from her evident personal qualities, was the fact that she got spectacular flans that were always different: there was no equal flan to another. This could be attributable to the
excellence that he wanted to give to the flan (for example, those of Lent, whose purpose was to complete a somewhat poor menu, they did not even take half the eggs that the flan that they prepared for the town’s biggest festival). In general, her mastery was attributed to the mastery of technique and “skinny tricks”, but my mother went further and was sure that her dear friend possessed a strange magical “gift” that nature had granted her to make custards. “with eyes closed”.
Before getting into this recipe, I have gone hunting online, looking for “good flans” and I have to confess that, even judging only by appearance, I had a hard time finding them: some showed lumpy and compact textures, full of dimples (the eyes of the flan), others were bathed in a caramel so dark that they would surely sour; others used so few eggs that their flavor would not correspond to the delicacy of the egg yolk; finally, in relation to the way of cooking (the crux flan) was not given the attention it deserved. After this cyber walk, I understand that it is quite frequent to find people who do not like flan, some even hate it and they are right.
A flan must have a smooth and creamy texture, without eyes of any kind and with a golden caramel that sweetens it, while bathing it. And I repeat, for the third time, the false presumption that the dimples, holes or eyes of the flan are signs of its goodness, or even show the homemadeness of its production, it is an urban legend; And although some cooks look out on TV boasting about them, I can assure you that in good cooking schools they suspend people who present flans with holes.
The idea that making a flan is simple, is like speaking disparagingly of someone who “doesn’t even know how to fry an egg” (as if frying an egg was so easy! And I don’t go into the Spanish omelette!). Preparing a good flan is very serious and you have to meet two or three requirements, without which you may be doomed to failure. Therefore, what I am going to try with this recipe is to give you these tricks that will help to ensure the creation of a creamy, sweet, soft and light flan with the exact number of eggs that make it amazingly sweet.
-a flan mold, a lunch box or a rectangular mold that will fit you in the pot where you are going to cook it in a bain-marie. The one you see in the photo is one of my old glories, and I usually take him everywhere, because he has served me so faithfully that I have an eternal debt to him.
-4 whole eggs and 3 yolks. This ratio seems very appropriate to me. However, my mother made a “walk around the house” flan with the same proportions as this one but with only 4 whole eggs, and it was frankly good.
-200 g. of sugar; the truth is that I think that a flan has to be sweet. If you want not to get fat, take a smaller piece, which will taste great, or take a good walk.
-1/2 l. fresh milk (if possible not pasteurized but of the day)
-a lemon peel
-a cinnamon stick
you will need the eggshells to cook it and that it does not splash
For the caramel:
-4 spoons full of sugar
-1 tablespoons of water
-a splash of lemon, which will make it easier to slide
Let’s start by caramelizing the mold, which can be like the one you see in the photo, a simple lunch box or pyrex (refractory glass):
1. We put the sugar, the water and the lemon trickle in the pan, and stir it well with a metal spoon (never wooden).
2. At a medium-high temperature you bring it to a boil, and do not remove the eye because in a few minutes it will begin to color:
3. When you have the color you see in the photo below, if you are newbies, you should remove it with the spoon and be very careful to remove it as soon as it looks almost golden, because when you take it out it will be so hot that it will darken a little more:
4. Outside the burner, it will have toasted a little more and you can now proceed to caramelize the mold, moving the flan so that the caramel spreads on the bottom and the side walls. Do it with a kitchen cloth to avoid burning yourself:
5. Prepared and reserved the flan, we will go for the milk that we will mix with the sugar, the lemon rind and the cinnamon in a container or saucepan and when it starts to boil we will lower the heat and we will have it 5 more minutes; It will rest another 10 or 15 minutes to infuse all the flavors and when we pour it into the eggs it will not curdle:
6. Now you can beat the eggs just enough, more or less as for omelette, if you beat them a lot the dreaded dimples will be produced.
7. IMPORTANT TO AVOID HOYUELOS. You already have the warm milk and you can mix it with the egg, but you are going to pass it through a strainer because the threads of the whites, or waste of the lemon or cinnamon can collaborate to spoil the creaminess of the flan. Notice what remains in the strainer:
8. Now we mix the eggs and the milk, without beating them, and they immediately go to the flan, but before closing it, I cover it with white paper so that it does not take water at any time and I put an elastic band on it, before closing it:
(An aside: What an old lady my blessed flanera looks! I think she will survive me and I will leave her as a “heirloom” (“family heirloom”).
9. Next, and already in the last step, I do something else VERY IMPORTANT: I place something like a hoop, or if you have a basket for the best steam, so that the flanera does not directly touch the fire. It can be any washer on anything, or the flat top of a tomato can:
10. I am going to crush the eggshells and place them around the flannel. This is also IMPORTANT because it prevents the water from passing over the flannel and the flan from entering the water. It will also prevent the water from boiling in a gush because the shells control the temperature (there are people who have the unusual idea that water should not boil in Maria’s bath). It should boil but low and in a more contained way. As for the height that the water must have in relation to the flanera, I would say that up to half of the flanera, so the container where you do it has to be as high as possible. Don’t put a lot of water until it starts to boil and you can see how far it goes:
9. It is difficult to give you an approximate duration because it will depend on the eggs, the milk, and the cooking of your burner. I would say that 40 or 45 minutes is enough, but if you see that it is not curdled, close it again and another 10 minutes. The flan must be, as the English say, “wobbly”, that is to say “trembling”, not hard. If you put a finger on it, it should not stick even if its appearance is a little unstable or shaky.
When it is, you let it cool and when it cools down completely, you put it in the fridge and it will need a few hours there. I always do it the day before. ANDOutside the fridge, you pass a pointed knife along the sides, put a plate or platter on it, and quickly invert it. I often garnish it with thin orange slices, which can be raw, or passed through a clear and transparent syrup, but it also serves as it is:
10. And there you have the texture of the interior, I am sorry I cannot send you the flavor:
I think the images exemplify what I said in the beginning about the extraordinary virtues of a good flan.
BON APPÉTIT AND GOOD LUCK !!!!!!!!