Tuesday 25 March 2008

A Lucious Caramel Flan . . . Or . . . Flying in the Face of my Fear

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." ~Robert F. Kennedy (1925 - 68)

When I was growing up my mother always told me that you have nothing to fear except fear itself, and some of my most important lessons in life, I have learned through making mistakes, but I have to say upfront that I was sorely tempted to opt out of this week's Tuesdays With Dorie challenge, "Caramel Topped Flan" as chosen by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon .

You see, Caramel has always been my nemesis. Any and every time I have tried to make caramel in the past I have either burnt it, or it has turned into these crusty flakes that were impossible to turn into anything but the garbage. (Actually that's a lie, as they were so embedded in the bottom of my saucepan that I had to soak it for days and days and days) Did I really want to put myself through the torture of trying to make caramel yet again? Could I conquer my fears and actually produce something edible? Should I just hide my fears and say I didn't have enough time to do the challenge this week, you know . . . what with Easter and everything, who could argue with that?

I am a stubborn person though, and I do love a challenge. I had to ask myself, "What's the point in belonging in a group like this if the first time something gets a bit *sticky* (every pun intended) I run for cover and hide in the hills???" I decided to grab the bull by the horns and face my nemesis head on!

Let me tell you though, it was not without more than a little bit of trepidation that I grabbed my saucepan and the sugar canister that day, and decided to face my fears, and I really, really did think it was going to be just another failure in the long list of caramel failures in my culinary history.

I measured the sugar and the water and . . . ohhh . . . just a squirt of lemon into the saucepan and began. I have to say that Dorie's instructions are so "spot on" that I could not fail. I am happy to say that my caramel turned out perfectly, the first time, and I was thrilled to bits!!!

Now, does that not look like perfect caramel to you???? Let me tell you, there was some heavy duty "Self back patting" going on after this one!

The rest of the recipe was a breeze to get through after that, and I found myself wondering what all the fuss was about, and I could almost hear my mother's voice telling me just the same and, "I told you so!" I did kind of wonder though, how something as hard as that caramel waiting in the bottom of my pan for the custard mixture was ever going to turn into something as liquidy sweet as the caramel that I was looking at topping Dorie's photograph in the book. Fingers crossed, I plunged ahead anyways, and trod where only fearless caramel conquering hero's dare to tread!

It all went together rather smoothly and before too long I had a lovely custard mixture sitting in my big beaker waiting to pour into the caramel coated cake pan, which was sitting there waiting, in my roaster on a lovely bed of paper kitchen toweling. (I am not certain what the need of the paper toweling is, but I'm sure someone will enlighten me at some point in my life!)

One thing that Dorie didn't mention in her recipe though, was to pour the custard mixture into the pan through a sieve, which I did do and was glad that I did. It is inevitable when you are making a custard mixture that there will be some sediment and eggy solids in the bottom of your mixture, and if you don't want that interspersed throughout your custard or hanging around the bottom, it's always wise to pour it into the pan through a sieve and I wish I had taken a picture of what was left in the sieve to show you, but alas . . . I was just so damn thrilled that my caramel had turned out I could think of nothing else!

I poured my boiling water into the roasting pan around the cake pan and then very carefully transferred the whole lot in to the waiting oven. I would have loved to have the roaster and everything already waiting in the oven, ready for me to pour the water in, but in truth, I have very flimsy oven racks in my stove, not at all like the sturdy American ones up at the big house and I have known them to collapse under the pressure before and send my ministrations all over the floor of a hot oven so the way I did it was the only way for me to do it, and not risk total failure and a very messy oven.

Half an hour later, I was rewarded with a lovely looking custard, perfectly set, and lightly browned in several places. I took it out of the oven (again very carefully) and set it on the side to cool for a time before I popped it into the fridge to finish cooling.

I know, I did the unthinkable . . . and this was going to be our Easter Dessert. Todd is always telling me I shouldn't experiment on our guests . . . and I am always flying in the face of danger and experimenting on my guests. Thankfully, I have never had a complete and utter disaster yet . . . but . . . just to be on the safe side, I had also whipped up a Victorian Sponge.

I uttered a huge and inaudible sigh of relief when that beautifully caramel topped golden flan slipped from the pan onto my serving plate when it came time to serve dessert. "Oh my goodness!" Sister MacDonald exclaimed as she saw it for the very first time . . . "Back home this would be a dessert served in a high class establishment!" I calmly smiled and replied as I let my knife slip through the first deliciously trembling piece, "Oh this little thing? . . . It was nothing . . . a piece of cake."

I'm probably not the first person to say this, and I probably won't be the last, but . . . Dorie helped cure my inate fear of making caramel and I'm a changed woman because of it . . .

You could not ask for a nicer dessert. Deliciously rich and silky custard covered and surrrounded with a bittersweet caramel syrup. My guest's were thrilled with it, and I caught Todd digging into the leftovers the morning after. I think next time (and there will be a next time) I'll try out the coconut version! Yummy!!!

*Caramel Topped Flan*

For the Caramel
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
squirt of fresh lemon juice

For the Flan
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a roasting pan or a 9-x-13-inch baking pan with a double thickness of paper towels. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat.

Put a metal 8-x-2-inch round cake pan-not a nonstick one-in the oven to heat while you prepare the caramel.

To Make the Caramel: Stir the sugar, water and lemon juice together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan. Put the pan over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar becomes an amber-colored caramel, about 5 minutes-remove the pan from the heat at the first whiff of smoke.

Remove the cake pan from the oven and, working with oven mitts, pour the caramel into the pan and immediately tilt the pan to spread the caramel evenly over the bottom; set the pan aside.

To Make the Flan: Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a 2-quart glass measuring cup or in a bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar. Whisk vigorously for a minute or two, and then stir in the vanilla. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid-this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the hot cream and milk. Using a large spoon, skim off the bubbles and foam that you worked up.

Put the caramel-lined cake pan in the roasting pan. Pour the custard into the cake pan and slide the setup into the oven. Very carefully pour enough hot water from the kettle into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cake pan. (Don't worry if this sets the cake pan afloat.) Bake the flan for about 35 minutes, or until the top puffs a bit and is golden here and there. A knife inserted into the center of the flan should come out clean.

Remove the roasting pan from the oven, transfer the cake pan to a cooking rack and run a knife between the flan and the sides of the pan to loosen it. Let the flan cool to room temperature on the rack, then loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When ready to serve, once more, run a knife between the flan and the pan. Choose a rimmed serving platter, place the platter over the cake pan, quickly flip the platter and pan over and remove the cake pan-the flan will shimmy out and the caramel sauce will coat the custard.

Yield: 6 to 8 Servings

Just . . . one . . . more . . . trembling . . . mouthful . . . ahhhhh . . .


  1. I LOOOVVEEEEEEE Flan! It's a good thing I wasn't there. I would have inhaled the whole thing. It would have been gone, slurped up so not even crumbs remained.

  2. It looks wonderful! Great job on conquering your fear!

  3. Marie, what beautiful looking flan. I have never attempted to make one yet, but looking at this makes me wanna give it a go. Gotta say I always experiment on my guests, it gets a bit boring just cooking for the two of us and I love to try out new dishes when I have people coming. Call me crazy, just like you.

  4. It looks absolutely perfect! Well done for overcoming your fear - the end result was obviously worth it!

  5. Nice looking caramel!!! Way to go!

  6. That looks lovely. I haven't made flan in ages...it may be time again.

  7. Your flan look so yummm ! I didn't have so much luck with my caramel. I always have trouble with caramel.
    I love the two last pictures.
    verO from delimOOn

  8. I'm not an anonymous.... ;-)
    Your flan look so yummm ! I didn't have so much luck as you with the caramel. I always get trouble.
    I love the two last pictures.
    verO from delimOOn

  9. "YUMMY Marie,

    looks so mouth watering!!" I can just taste it now!! I wish I can...

    I hope you and your lovely family had a wonderful and joyful Easter!!

    Hugs to you! ..."oh yeah, I perfer to leave you comments here on this blog, cause I can,this one allows me to. The other I have to have an AOL account. I do visit your other one too though;-))


  10. Your caramel looks great. I strained my custard, too, and it came out silky smooth.

  11. Beautiful presentation and pictures! Well done!

  12. Yippee for conquering caramel! Your flan turned out superb!!

  13. I'm glad you were able to conquer your fear of caramel! Your flan looks divine! :)

  14. Lovely flan, and lovely post. What a pleasure you are to read!

  15. That caramel looks absolutely perfect! Congratulations!

  16. WOW! Great job on the flan!
    I love your blog too. Very peaceful, but delicious!

  17. Can you believe how easy that caramel was? Hallelujah! Nice job.

  18. ::more back patting::
    Your flan looks gorgeous and I totally understand your caramel fear. Glad we were able to succeed on this one! Great job!
    Clara @ I♥food4thought

  19. Your caramel looks perfect! I wish mine turned out half as well as yours! Great job!

  20. So glad it turned out well for you and that your easter dinner guests were impressed! Great job facing your fears with caramel!!

  21. You are a better woman than me. I will probably never tackle caramel or flan.

  22. your flan looks great. you are right. you cannot ask for a nicer dessert

  23. Gorgeous! You were much braver than I - I chickened out when it was a pale, pale amber. Lovely!

  24. I have never tried to make caramel~I was always too scared. Maybe I'll try it. :)


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