Friday, March 9, 2012


Pudding has always been one of my favorite desserts. I love a rich, dark chocolate pudding or a creamy rice pudding with lots of cinnamon and raisins. But the queen of all puddings is flan, an egg-y baked custard crowned with coppery caramel sauce.

Flan is made by caramelizing sugar, pouring it into the bottom of a baking dish, covering it with custard, and baking until the custard is set. To serve, the custard is usually inverted onto a plate and the caramelized sugar, now on top, becomes a beautiful and delicious sauce.

While it may look like you slaved for hours in the kitchen, flan is surprisingly simple to make. There are only three major ingredients: sugar, eggs, and milk. Add a little vanilla flavoring to the custard and/or some finely grated orange rind and you have a dessert that's fit for company, yet soothing enough to be comfort food.

Don't be daunted by caramelizing sugar. It's pretty easy. But if you don't want to bother, you can still make this lovely and simple baked custard. The recipe for the custard follows the directions for caramelizing sugar.

To Caramelize Sugar:

You'll need a heavy-duty 1-1/2 to 2 qt saucepan with a handle, preferably one that doesn't heat up. You'll also want to have a 1-1/2 qt baking dish for your custard at the ready. I like to use a round, bowl-like, glass baking dish, such as Pyrex. It allows me to see what's going on during baking and when inverting the custard.

Put 1/2 C granulated white sugar and 1/4 C water in the saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir just until the sugar has dissolved in the water. When the sugar syrup begins to boil, lift the pan slightly over the heat, giving yourself just enough room to tip the pan gently to the right and the left. If necessary, turn up the heat.

Continue tipping the pan to the right and the left, allowing the sugar syrup to boil and flow back and forth in the bottom of the pan over the heat. After a while, the syrup will begin to take on a light golden color. Continue tipping the pan and the sugar will take on a deeper and darker caramelized color. The amount of time this takes varies depending on the amount of sugar syrup and heat. It might take 10 minutes or longer, but be careful not to burn it.

When the sugar has caramelized, remove it from the heat and quickly pour it into the baking dish. Swirl the baking dish around so the caramel coats the entire bottom and some of the sides. Be very careful working with caramelized sugar. It's about 300 degrees F and will stick to your skin. I like to use oven mitts when pouring the caramelized sugar into the baking dish and when swirling the baking dish to coat the bottom and sides fo the dish.

Many recipes for caramelized sugar call for adding a pinch of cream of tartar or a little lemon juice. These ingredients prevent the sugar from crystallizing. Another technique to prevent crystallization is to gently wash down the sides of the saucepan if crystals appear when you're tipping it back and forth. This can be done with a brush dipped in water. Personally, I've never had a problem with crystallization and have never needed to use any of these techniques. Now you can set the baking dish aside and make the custard.

To Make the Custard:

3 eggs + 2 egg yolks
2 C whole milk
1/4 C sugar
1 t vanilla flavoring

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl or 4 C measuring cup and beat the eggs gently with a fork until combined.

3. Add the sugar, half the milk and the vanilla and beat gently with a fork until well combined.

4. Add the remaining milk and beat gently with a fork until combined.

5. Pour the custard over the caramelized sugar which has hardened in the bottom and on the sides of your baking dish. I like to pour the custard through a strainer or sieve to catch any unincorporated bits of egg, but this step is optional.

6. To bake, place the baking dish with the custard in a slightly larger baking dish and pour hot water gently into the outer baking dish so that the depth of the water comes about half way up the side of the dish with the custard. The baking dish with the custard will be sitting in a bath of hot water. This is called a bain marie.

7. Place the custard in its bath in the preheated oven and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

8. When done, remove from the oven. Life the custard out of the water bath and cool slightly. Then refrigerate for at least 3 hours before inverting. It's best to invert the custard shortly before serving it.

If you chose not to make the caramel, there's no need to invert the custard. You can just scoop it out of the baking dish. In fact, you can scoop the flan out of the baking dish if you prefer, too. If you're not inverting it, you can serve the custard warm if you prefer, just be prepared for it to be soft and not hold its shape.

Flan or custard can also be made in individual servings using oven-safe custard cups. Pouring the hot caramelized sugar into individual custard cups is just slightly more complicated than pouring it into one larger baking dish.

Some folks like to use evaporated milk instead of whole milk for a richer custard. Other options for greater richness include: substituting half and half or cream for some of the milk. I've even seen recipes using sweetened condensed milk in place of some of the milk and the sugar. There are many delicious variations. Go ahead, be creative, if you're so inclined.

Today's bounty included:

From Weiser Family Farms: French Fingerling potatoes;

From Underwood Family Farms: Brussel sprouts, yellow carrots, spinach, Easter radishes, purple kale, mizuna, leeks, candy beets, green leaf lettuce, and curly parsley;

From Jaime Farms: Red onions, Kirby cucumbers, cauliflower, Italian parsley, baby dill, free-range eggs, and mixed peppers;

From Sage Mountain Farm: beets, red sails lettuce, spicy greens mix, and arugula;

From Rancho Santa Cecilia: navel oranges and satsuma mandarins.



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