Happy Three Kings Day! If you’re not familiar with Three Kings Day, it’s also called the Epiphany and you can read about it here. To summarize though, Three Kings Day is the 12th day of Christmas and it’s when the three kings (or wise men) found Jesus and brought him the gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It’s a holiday celebrated by lots of different cultures, especially in Latin America.
To celebrate this year, I decided to have a dinner party for 10 people in our tiny apartment. I invited three of my former coworkers, their significant others, my parents, and my brother. It was a tight fit (Charlotte and Craig had to bring chairs and a table), it was a little hot (I had to open the sliding door), and we used every single dish we own – but it was a blast and I’m so glad to have thrown a little party to catch up with friends and family.
And boy did we cook up a storm! In truth, Ryan and my mom did most of the fancy cooking. Together we made sangria, coquito (a coconut drink I’ll post about later), green beans, arroz con gandules, a beautiful beef tenderloin, cheesecake, and of course, flan. It was a big meal and pretty delicious. Most importantly, it was fun. It was wonderful having my friends together, and laughing, and chatting. It was a wonderful way to start the new year and celebrate the holiday.
My only regret, is that I took very few pictures. Sigh. I had fancy napkins, red and green place mats, a pretty Christmas tree, and gorgeous food. Seriously, Ryan made a beautiful 5.5 pound beef tenderloin and it was so tender and lovely. The only picture I have is when you see it on the table in the group shot, and the picture I took of my plate when I was 90% finished eating. I wish I had more photos of everything and everyone.
For today’s post, I wanted to highlight my mom’s flan. If you’re not familiar with flan, it’s similar in flavor to a creme brulee but instead of a hard sugar topping, it has a gooey caramel topping. It’s a custard that’s sweet, silky, and a bit jiggly. In my mind, this is one of those “magic” recipes that seems hard to figure out. In part this is because her recipe is a stained and ripped piece of paper, there aren’t any instructions, and it is just a list of ingredients and their respective portions. I also think it’s hard because in middle school my friend Lisa and I made one for Spanish class and we burnt it and didn’t even know it until we tasted it. But, upon watching my mom make this recipe, I’ve decided it is really about patience and confidence. You have to trust your eye and you can’t rush because this takes hours to make well.
Anyway, the work is worth it because it was a big hit. My friend Ashley was skeptical that she would like it, but then after a bite she let out a gleeful, “Ooo, I like flan!” And Craig was the “flan man” and served everyone’s portion with gusto. There was none left at the end of the night. So, I know that holidays are over and you might not have much use for another dessert recipe, but I think you should consider giving this one a try. It will change what you think about flan.
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup milk (you can use any kind of milk as long as it’s cow’s milk, soy milk does not work)
12oz can evaporated milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp sugar
1. Fill the bottom of the double boiler with water. You want the water to be just at the level of the bottom of top of the double boiler (when the two pieces are fitted together). You don’t want the water to be too high, otherwise when you’re cooking steam can get trapped in the flan and ruin it. Heat the water on medium until it comes to a gentle boil.
2. In blender, mix the eggs, sugar (1 cup+1 tbsp), vanilla, evaporated milk, and milk.
3. On another burner, heat 4 tbsp of sugar in the top of the double boiler. This is how you’re making the caramel topping.
4. Stir the sugar regularly. You don’t have to stir it constantly and aggressively, but you need to stir it regularly so it doesn’t burn. Watch the sugar carefully, if it bubbles then you’ll need to start over. Ultimately you want to make a caramel that is light golden brown, not dark. This process can take about 20 minutes. I tell you this so you don’t worry if it’s taking a long time, but don’t wait 20 minutes if the caramel is looking pretty earlier.
4a. So, as you’re stirring, the sugar will start to get clumpy. Use your spoon to squish the clumps. Then it will start to turn light brown. Then it will glisten and liquefy. It will smell like a candy apple. If you feel it’s going too fast, lower the heat. Or, remove it from the heat, stir, and then put it back on the burner. Ultimately you will have a gorgeous caramel sauce. It’s done when it’s beautiful brown and a dragging spoon leaves a trail behind it. How the sugar transforms is amazing. Cooking and science are amazing.
5. When it’s done, take the caramel off the heat. Let it sit for a minute or two to thicken.
6. Pulse the custard mixture you have in the blender just to mix it up again.
7. Scoop 1/2 cup of the custard mixture. Put the cup against the side of the double boiler, and slowly, slowly pour the custard on top of the caramel. It will slowly seep out of the cup, down the side, and cover the caramel. Do this again for a second and third time. You’re doing this so that the caramel stays a topping and doesn’t leak into the custard layer.
8. After the second and third time, you can poor a little more quickly. But, still pour it gently against the side of the bowl. Don’t just plop it on!
9. Put the top of the double boiler on top of the bottom of the double boiler (over the bubbling water). If the water starts to bubble too fast, then lower the heat. The middle picture is bubbling too fast, the third picture is slower and gentler.
10. Let it cook until the custard sets and doesn’t wiggle much. To check this you remove the lid of the double boiler, and shake it gently. To get to the finished product takes a LONG time. About 3 hours, but maybe more. As you cook, the water will evaporate. When it gets to 1/2 inch of water, add some more hot water and keep cooking.
11. Let cool for one hour.
12. Put it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
13. Take a pie plate. Put it over the flan and quickly and smoothly flip it. The flan will drop out onto the pie plate and be ready to serve. Take a spoon and scoop out any caramel left in the double boiler. Spoon that over the flan.
14. Serve and enjoy!
Messy level: This isn’t too crazy messy, but I think it deserves a three spoon rating. You have to use a blender, double boiler, and pie plate, so there’s a lot of dishes in the end. What’s good though, is that you have lots of time between steps so you can clean as you go and you aren’t left with a big pile at the end.