Light and Creamy Flan de Leche

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April 19, 2014

In chef John Verlinden's new book To Cook is to Love: Nuevo Cuban: Lighter, Healthier Latin Recipes he offers readers an array of nutritious recipes that are packed with flavor.  Part memoir, part cookbook, To Cook is to Love, interweaves stories from Mami Aida's childhood, Verlinden's mother-in-law, with Cuban recipes from her past. The cookbook contains 200 recipes that pay homage to Latin cuisine while also keeping health in mind.  This flan de leche recipe is an example of how Chef Verlinden transforms a traditional Cuban dish into one that is nutritious and still delicious.

Flan de Leche
Crème Caramel
Makes: 8 6-ounce servings

This flan is a lighter, healthier version of the traditional recipes which feature cream or condensed milk, but it retains the rich flavor and elegance of the originals. This recipe will make one large flan or several small ones. I think individual ones baked in small ramekins are the best. They cook faster, unmold more easily and make a beautiful presentation.

For the caramel sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon lime juice

For the custard:
5 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
pinch salt
yellow food coloring (optional)

For the water bath:
2 quarts water

For the garnish:
fresh berries
mint leaves

Caramel:

In a medium saucepan, combine all caramel sauce ingredients.

Cook mixture over medium-high heat until syrup turns from clear to golden, about 8 minutes. Stir gently just to ensure even browning. Continue to cook, swirling/stirring regularly until mixture turns a dark honey-caramel color, about 4 more minutes.

Remove the pan immediately from the heat, as it will continue to cook. Pour a portion of the caramel into each of the ramekins — just enough to cover the bottom of the ramekin. This recipe will make 8 – 15 individual flans, depending on the size of the ramekins.

Allow caramel to cool and harden before adding custard.

Custard:

Preheat oven to 350°.

In large bowl, combine 3 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks.

Add the sugar and mix thoroughly with an electric mixer or whisk and set aside.

In a saucepan, heat the milk stirring occasionally over medium-high heat for about 6 minutes or until steam appears (160°).

Remove the milk from the heat.

Gently mix the warm milk, vanilla and salt with the egg mixture until combined. For a richer look, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the mixture.

Divide custard mixture among the ramekins.

Hot Water Bath:

Bring about 2 quarts of water to boil.

Place filled ramekins in a large baking dish or roasting pan, ensuring that the sides don’t touch.

Set pan on oven rack.

Fill pan with enough boiling water to reach about halfway up the ramekins.

Loosely cover the entire pan with aluminum foil.

Baking and Serving:

Bake until the custard is set, and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, about 30 – 40 minutes. The smaller the ramekins that are used, the shorter the cooking time.

Remove ramekins from hot water bath; cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

To unmold, carefully work a small paring knife around the entire edge of the ramekin, pressing the blade against the side of the dish.

Hold the serving plate over the top of the ramekin and invert, set the plate on your work surface and shake the ramekin gently to release the flan.

Garnish each flan with fresh berries and mint leaves and serve.

To make a large flan, follow the recipe above, pouring the caramel into a 1 ½ quart soufflé dish or equivalent baking dish and tipping the mold back and forth to spread the caramel evenly over the sides and bottom. Be careful! The caramelized sugar can reach 400°. Once the caramel has cooled and hardened, pour in the custard mix. Fill a large roasting pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the dish. Increase baking time to 1 hour or until center is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Once you’ve had some experience making flans, you can experiment with molds of different sizes and shapes — use anything that is wider on top than at the bottom. Remember to adjust baking times depending on the size of the mold used.

*For our clients with special dietary concerns, we have made this flan with skim milk and egg whites. While the custard is a little rubbery and doesn’t have the same eggy flavor as the original, it’s quite tasty and the flan sets up beautifully.

All recipes reprinted with permission from To Cook Is to Love: Nuevo Cuban: Lighter, Healthier Latin Recipes (Langdon Street Press, © 2014). 

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