Something soft and dry wrapped around my fingers and I was pulled into the warmth of my Mammy’s arms. – Kid. From the award-winning short story “The Duwende”, by Joan Reginaldo
This is the first recipe for the Unsettled Mom blog because it shows the unsettled nature of my relationships with my mom and my own culture.
Leche flan is my favorite dessert. Pronounced le-che-flun (rhymes with fun) or le-che-plun. When I went away to college at UCSB, I missed it enough to ask my mom for the recipe. This should clue you into the fact that I went to college during the internet dark ages; this was before “blogs”, before Facebook, before recipes were posted online.
My mom responded with this deceptively simple recipe. Notes in parentheses are mine.
12 egg yolks (Save the whites for angel cake. If your cake comes our bland and tough, you forgot to remove the whites)
1 14oz. can of sweetened condensed milk (Yes, you can use the reduced fat/fat free condensed milk but the taste tradeoff isn’t worth it. Pictured above are the brands I like to use.)
1 12oz. can of evaporated milk
1 tsp of vanilla.
For the caramel:
A cup of sugar.
About a quarter to a third cup of water.
3 Llaneras (traditional flan mold). Difficult to find unless you Amazon it (Look for Flaneras or Flan mold). You can use any shape cake pans instead, about 8 or 9 inches, flat bottoms are ideal. Important thing is you want a pretty tall side, at least an inch. DO NOT USE GLASS.
A roasting pan with high edges.
Hot water. Not boiling. From the tap is fine.
Optional – Mesh strainer/skimmer.
1. Using a fork, combine the eggs, both cans of milk, and vanilla in one bowl. Stir gently but thoroughly. You want to avoid making air bubbles but you want everything to mix well. DO NOT USE AN ELECTRIC MIXER.
2. Set the egg-milk mixture aside. If you’re confident in your baking skills, go ahead and start preheating your oven now. 375 F. If you’re like me and you have extra entropy and things have a way of going off script, don’t start your oven. The mix won’t go bad or curdle, but you can get burned if you rush the next step.
3. Here’s the part that always has me flipping tables. Read this step at least twice before starting this part. I always have to give myself a calming pep-talk, and make sure everything I need (pot mitts, cake pan, and heat-proof spatula) is ready and within arm’s reach before I start. I’m sure there are pro ways to do this, but this is how I learned via internet: TO MAKE THE CARAMEL, put the cup of sugar and a quarter cup of water (use more for thinner caramel, less for thicker caramel) into a sauce pot. You can do this step without water, but my sugar always burns. Over medium-high heat, bring this mixture to a boil (don’t stir). Watch carefully. As the sugar cooks, it’ll start to turn light brown (don’t stir). With pot-mitted hands, you can gently swirl the pan. The caramel is ready when it turns amber, an almost-new-penny color (once it reaches penny, you’re already too late, unless you like that burnt-sugar taste. Sugar burns quickly.) Using pot-mitted hands, pour the caramel into your cake pan. If you are able, use a spatula to scrape the melted sugar out. Using pot-mitted hands (the melted sugar will quickly heat the cool cake pan), take up the pan you’ve just poured the melted sugar syrup into and gently tilt it around to distribute the syrup. Melted sugar hardens very quickly, so work with that fact in mind.**An alternative method is to put the sugar and water directly into the cake pan, hold the pan over heat with tongs or pot-mitted hands, heat the sugar to the color you want, and swirl to distribute. Either way, be very careful because heated sugar is incredibly hot and whatever it’s poured into gets hot fast (hence the NO GLASS COOKWARE warning).
4. Set the coated cake pan aside. The sugar will harden, maybe even crack, and that’s fine. It’ll soften and melt in the oven.
5. If you haven’t preheated the oven yet, you can set it to 375F now.
6. As you pour the egg and milk mixture into the coated cake pan, you can strain the egg and milk mixture through a mesh skimmer to get those lumpy egg bits out. I don’t because I’m already regretting starting this whole thing and I just want it to be over already.
7. Cover the pan of egg and milk mixture with foil.
8. Put the covered cake pan into a roasting pan.
9. Pour hot water into the roasting pan until you reach about 3/4 of the way up to the lip of the covered cake pan, not the roasting pan.
10. Carefully put this whole thing on the center rack of your preheated oven.
(You can also pull out the center rack a bit, put the roasting pan on the rack, put the covered cake pan in the roasting rack, then add the water.)
Now comes the part that ruined my first endeavor. My mom told me to bake it for 4 hours. DO NOT BAKE IT FOR 4 HOURS.
Bake it for 1 hour. Maybe less, maybe more, depending on how big your cake pan is, how accurate your oven’s temperature gauge is, etc. It should be done when it passes the classic cake test – a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the flan, comes out clean.
At first, I thought it might’ve been just a mistake. Maybe she wrote down the wrong number. Maybe she was rushing. Maybe time means something different in the Philippines. Whatever.
But over the years, every time I’ve asked her for a recipe, she’s always changed one important thing: added one ingredient, forgot one ingredient, told me the wrong temperature, told me the wrong time, told me the wrong ingredient’s name.
Thankfully, I can now turn to the internet to find recipes of my childhood.
Back to the flan. Once it’s done (again, should only take about an hour), carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven. You can let it cool a bit while it’s still sitting in the hot water bath, or you can, very carefully, remove it from the water bath (Costco used to sell silicone gloves that are very helpful for this). Cool on the stove for about an hour until you can handle it with bare hands, then refrigerate as you would for a cheesecake. It’ll harden to sliceable consistency if you refrigerate for at least four hours. Ideally, you’ll make this the night before you want to serve it.
To serve, take the foil off the top. Put an upside-down plate on top of the pan. Make sure it’s large enough to make a seal around the lip of of the pan. Quickly invert the pan-plate duo so the pan is now on top of the plate.
If you’re worried, go ahead and make a few practice flips with an empty pan and plate, or a large bowl and plate (not in front of a TV or other expensive/hard to replace furniture). You want to confidently do it in one smooth motion. My brother once made a flan so big, it took two people to flip.
Remove the cake pan from the plate. Contemplate if you actually need to bring that glossy, caramel-coated confection to the pot-luck dinner or if it’d be better to turn on Netflix, put on pajamas, and spend a quiet night in. Alone.