Sorry, it amuses me.
I made this twice, recently. First, for Christmas Eve, and the a couple days ago for New Year's Eve. We've got a few more holidays over the next couple of months; I might make this for all of them.
Flan, or creme caramel, is basically an egg-based custard baked slowly in a hot water bath. Creme brulee is similar, but instead of placing the caramelized sugar in the bottom of the ramekin and then the custard, you bake the custard, chill it, and then sprinkle the top with sugar and caramelize it with a torch or under the broiler.
I decided to make this for Christmas Eve because we were making fajitas and I thought it would be a nice, simple-but-elegant, yummy dessert. I looked at a few recipes and then kind of came up with my own. Mainly, I decided to include some eggnog in place of some of the cream/milk in the recipes.
So here's my recipe and my pictures.
(makes 8 4-oz ramekins plus 6 6-oz ramekins, or similar combinations, depending on the size ramekins you're using.)
For the caramel:
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
For the custard:
6 whole eggs
10 egg yolks
4 cups milk
2 cups eggnog
1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
You'll also need a few pans (I use cake pans) to hold the ramekins. The pans should be about 2" deep, and you want half an inch to an inch of space around each ramekin. I've found that 6 ramekins fit incely in a 13 x 9 inch cake pan, 4 fit in a 10" square pan, and 4-5 fit nicely in a large heart-shaped pan.
It also helps if you've got a little helper who can crack and, when necessary, separate eggs like a pro.
Julia, for example, loves to crack eggs.
Now, the first thing you'll need to do is to caramelize some sugar. I make slightly more than I really need, because I'm not always the most accurate divider of caramel, so if I've got extra, I know I won't run short.
So, let's cook some sugar, shall we?
As it boils, you may notice sugar crystals forming around the edge of the pot, right at the water/sugar line. If this happens, dip a pastry brush in some water and gently moisten the crystals so they dissolve back into the rest of the sugar mixture. Keep an eye on the sugar as it boils.
After a few minutes, the sugar will begin to turn golden around the edge. Lower the heat a bit and swirl the pan a bit to blend the caramelizing sugar in with the rest. When you reach a warm, golden color, you're done. Shut the heat off and quickly pour a little of the caramel in each ramekin. The goal here is to cover the bottom of each little vessel, so if you need to swirl the ramekin a bit once you've poured in the caramel, go for it. The sugar will harden up pretty quickly, so you'll need to work fast. If you find that some of the sugar hardens without completely covering the bottom of the ramekin, pop it in the microwave for a few seconds until it softens enough to swirl.
All your ramekins are ready to go. Time to make the custard.
Put all your eggs – and egg yolks – in a large bowl and whisk them together.
Heat the milk/sugar mixture over medium to medium high heat until it just comes to a boil. Shut the heat off, then, with a whisk in your dominant hand and a ladle in your non-dominant hand, slowwwwwwwwwwwly ladle the milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the eggs as you do so. (Sorry, can't take pictures of this, I need both hands for other stuff.)
It's this ladling and whisking at the same time that prompted me to recommend whisking with the dominant hand. And why, you may ask, would I concern myself with dominant vs non-dominant hands in the middle of a flan recipe? Because I started out ladling the milk with my right hand into the bowl of eggs, which were to the left of the pot on the stove, and trying to whisk with my left hand. And somehow my brain just totally refused to go along with the arrangement, and – without my knowledge or consent – I started whirling the ladle like it was a whisk and…I guess whatever my left hand was doing consitituted a ladling motion with the non-ladle-bearing hand. It was total chaos for a moment, but I quickly switched things around and only had a little bit of a mess to clean up.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Keep whisking the milk mixture into the eggs, one ladleful at a time, until at least half the milk mixture is gone. At this point you're safe to go ahead and pour the rest of the milk mixture into the egg mixture and finish whisking. Now, just to be safe, strain this custard mixture to remove any coagulated egg bits or tiny bits of broken shell.
By the way, what you've just done, in case you didn't know, is called "tempering the eggs." That means you've slowly and gently warmed the eggs without turning them into a scrambled breakfast item. If you poured the hot milk directly into the eggs, you'd have a curdley mess, not the smooth and creamy custard texture you truly desire.
Okay. Now that you've successfully tempered the eggs, divide the mixture among your ramekins. Pop any really big bubbles with a toothpick or the tip of a knife. Why? It's fun. Sometimes the bubbles don't want to pop. Your toothpick will just glide right through! Very entertaining!
Now, you have a couple options with this next step. Ultimately, your goal is to have all the pans in the oven, and to have said pans half-filled with hot water. You can either do this by pouring the hot water (I just use the hottest I can get from my tap. Some books will tell you to boil the water first, others will tell you to use warm, or to just pour cold in and let the flan and water warm up at the same time. I've done it all different ways, and not once did anyone ever spit out their custard in dismay and accuse me of using the wrong temperature water bath.) into the pans and then carefully placing them on the racks in the oven, OR you can put the pans on the racks and pour the water into them then. Do whatever seems easiest, given your pans, your oven, your core muscles and your spine. I don't think it matters.
Once the pans with their ramekins and water are safely placed on racks in the oven (I place my racks at the 1/3 and 2/3 positions if I need two racks, otherwise I put the rack right in the middle of the oven.), close the oven door and DON'T OPEN IT for an hour. Yes, I said an hour. I know these are little tiny containers of yumminess that you're baking, and you don't want them to bake too long and dry out and become all crusty and hard. But that won't happen, because you're using a water bath, or bain marie, which gently and slowly cooks the custard.
Yes, that's the secret: preparing custard is all about the gentleness. Swirl the caramelizing sugar gently, temper the eggs gently, put the pans in the oven gently, and let them cook gently. Hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your oven, or, "Baby on Board" or something along those lines, if necessary.
(I'm just kidding about that. Sorry. I've been distracted. There are small children running around in here playing hide & seek and they keep asking me where so-and-so is. I think the "Do Not Disturb" sign is what I want on the bathroom door…with me soaking in a hot bubble bath…undisturbed. Sigh.)
After the hour is up, go ahead and take a peek at them. Shake one of the pans a bit and look at the surface of the custard. Is it really wiggly? If so, then leave it in there a little longer. Is it mostly stable around the edges with just a little jiggle in the center? If so, you can take them out. The larger ramekins will take longer to cook, so if you've combined ramekin sizes in the same pan, you can either remove the smaller ones when they're done or leave them in and cook a tiny bit more while the larger ramekins (or their contents, rather) finish setting up.
Be VERY CAREFUL when taking these pans of ramekins out of the oven. The water in there will be scalding hot, and scalding hot is no fun when it's splashed on you.
I am impatient and, I confess, I have never left them a full hour. I take them out, set them down and let them come to room temperature out of the water bath. After that, I put them in the fridge to chill for a few hours at least, or up to a couple of days. For instance, I made the second batch of flan on Dec. 31st and we still have a few left. (I made too many on purpose.) And the ones we're having now are just as yummy as the ones I served on New Year's Eve.
Fast forward to when you want to serve these.
Here's how you unmold these. It's pretty simple; you just need to be patient. Oh, yeah, and gentle.
First, get one of your chilled flan.
Run the knife around the inside of the ramekin once or twice to loosen the custard. The caramel will help you with this, in a way, as it will have returned to a liquid state underneath the custard and will aid in separating the custard from the ramekin.
Could I possibly say ramekin a few more times? Let's see? Ramekin ramekin ramekin. I sound like a broken record. Maybe I should have interchanged "custard cup" with that word a few times in the post.
Okay, so you've loosened the custard. Now, invert the ramekin custard cup over a plate or little serving dish. (You don't have to set it down on the plate – I just did it because I was taking the picture.)
Anyway, have the plate close to the ramekin so that you don't accidently let the flan fall on the floor, and drizzle the caramelly liquid all around the flan once it's safely on the plate.
Get a spoon, and dig in. (I was going to say "serve" but I think, after all this effort, you should enjoy the first one.)