Sunday, May 6, 2012

Crème Caramel [aka Flan]

The celebration of Cinco de Mayo would hardly be a complete without dessert. These little guys were the perfect end to a spicy dinner. Crème Caramel is more typically known as Flan, though I personally much prefer the former rather than the latter name. Crème Caramel sounds so sophisticated. It rolls of the tongue and delights the ear. Flan, on the other hand, sits heavy in the mouth and is too close to the word "phlegm" to really get my taste buds excited.

Crème Caramel a type of custard and is quite similar to Crème Brûlée. Crème Caramel, however, does not require the purchase of an extra gadget (a blow torch), keeping costs down.

Crème Caramel can be made in various sizes. Make any size you wish - the only difference is in cook time. The smaller the dish, the shorter the cook time. You'll know when they're done because the center of the custard will be firmly set (in other words, it is no longer liquid). Pictured is one made in the traditional 6" ramekin. For dessert last night, though, I made 3 dozen "mini" Crème Caramels in little tart tins. (Unfortunately the lighting at dinner wasn't conducive to photography, so they are not pictured.) Their presentation was adorable. I served four per plate, one in each corner of an invisible square, topped each mini caramel with a half a strawberry, and served with a generous spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

Finally, like many custards, Crème Caramel is cooked in a water bath, helping to prevent the custard from overcooking. If you've never cooked with a water bath, don't be intimidated. All it requires is getting a pan with a little depth, adding enough water so that the water is 1/2"-1" high, and placing your baking dish in the water.

Crème Caramel
adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven 325º

In a small saucepan, combine:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

Bring to a rolling boil. Do not stir, but instead use the handle to swirl the mixture until the sugar has dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved, cover with a lid for two minutes. Remove lid. Continue to let the sugar cook until it turns golden brown. Immediately pour into baking dish(es). [If using 6" ramekins, spread evenly between 6. If using tart tins, spoon 1/2 teaspoon into each tart holder.] Move the pan/tin back and forth to spread caramel evenly over the bottom. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, lightly combine:
5 large egss
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Warm (do not boil):
3 cups whole milk

One half cup at a time, whisk the milk into the egg mixture until all the milk is used and the sugar has dissolved. Pour the custard over top the caramel. The custard should reach the rim of the dish, as it will not rise.

Place your baking dish in a water bath in the oven. Bake 40-60 minutes for 6" ramekins or 30-40 minutes for tart tins.

Once done cooking, let cool on cooling rack and then place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (if you're using smaller baking dishes, it may not take quite this long to cool).

To serve, use a knife to gently loosen the edges of the custard. Place a plate on top of the dish and flip. Remember that the caramel is going to pour out, so you'll want a dish with a little lip.

Garnish with strawberries.

Eat up!

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