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Tips for making Flan

I am going to make my first attempt at making Flan this weekend to bring as a dessert to a chili cookoff party. Are there any special tips or tricks to this dessert? I have never carmalized sugar before and I am a little intimitated at the prospect. Is it better to raise the temp gradually or can I just set the stove on high right off of the bat? Whould using a thermometer be beneficial or is it fairly easy to eyeball it based on color? Should I cover the flan when baking? Any help/advice would be appreciated. TIA

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  1. I'm anxious to see how other hounds respond as my greatest cooking disaster ever was pumpkin flan one year for Thanksgiving. It became part of family folklore. Thankfully we had a few other desserts.

    1. If you have, or can get your hands on, Penelope Casas's Foods and Wines of Spain, she has a foolproof recipe for flan. I make it often to serve with paella and have never had a problem with it.

      It's quite easy to eyeball the color of the caramel. If you've never made it before, I'd start out with a moderate heat source. Once it starts to color, it gets dark quite quickly so it does need to be watched. But I've never used a thermometer.
      It does not need to be covered.

      It can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Just loosen the sides of the flan with a knife and invert onto a dish to serve.

      Don't have the book here, but if you'd like a paraphrase let me know and I'll post it later this evening.

      1. A basic flan is pretty simple to make. First do your self a favor and make sure you are using 100% pure cane sugar IE Domino or C&H...if you don't know what you have because you put the stuff in a cannister and through the box away go buy cane sugar. The cheaper stuff just marked sugar or pure sugar etc. is beet sugar and it does not work well for this. Then put the required amount of sugar in a heavy casr iron skilet or deep pan. Put it on the range burner over med. heat and leave it alone for awhile. This takes patience. The sugar will start to melt slowly and begin to take on color. You might be tempted to stir it but it is better to swirl the pan as the sugar caramelizes. If you need to, take a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals clinging to the sides of the pan (this is why I prefer a casr iron skillet)when it starts taking on color start watching it carefully. Take it off the heat just before you think it is at peak color it will darken from the residual heat and can burn quickly. Pour it in your flan mold being very careful not to splash any on your skin you can't imagine how caramel cak burn skin.

        If your recipe does not call for it another tip is to strain the custard well. You get a much silkier custard and don't cook it too fast, use a water bath. A baked custard that has baked too quickly will have holes from bubbles in it, a rubbery texture and also gets weepy form the eggs cooking too quickly

        3 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          Just to confirm what Candy said, be VERY VERY careful when pouring and/or swirling your caramelized sugar--my first attempt at flan sent me to the emergency room (another proud kitchen battle scar)! No need for a thermometer, you'll be able to eyeball the rich caramel color. No need to cover--do make sure you bake it in a water bath though. Good luck and enjoy!

          1. re: Candy

            Agree with everything you've said, Candy, but I'd recommend against a beginner using a cast iron skillet. It makes it much more difficult to judge the color of the caramel. And because its so much heavier, its that much more difficult to lift and pour the caramel into custard cups (if that's what the OP plans to do). I'd suggest using either a stainless steel or enamel saucepan at least until one has a sense of how quickly the sugar takes on color and is better able to judge when the optimum golden color has been reached.

            1. re: JoanN

              Just habit to me. The first time I made it, mid'70's and I did not know that stuff like that was supposed to be tricky it just made sense to me to use my old 8" cast iron skillet with pouring lips. I made a lot of stuff back then without a second thought, puff pastry was another. I think sometimes we think about this stuff too much and worry our selves silly. Souffles where another. Just get in there and do it.

          2. I don't use liitle cups, molds, or ramekins, I just make one giant flan in a heavy pot/ deep skillet. I melt sugar just as Candy says and swirl the pan so all surfaces are coated. No utensils for this. I then set the burnt sugar in to the fridge until it sets and a nice array of spidery cracks form. I pour in my mixture, set the pan in a water bath in a 350 degree oven (no need to cover)until a toothpick comes out clean. I'd check the oven at 30 minutes and every five minutes after that. The toothpick should come out clean yet the flan should still be quite wobbly. Chill and invert onto a large platter.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Steve

              Yes, this is something like the method I've used, see:
              http://www.texascooking.com/features/...

              My caramelizing anxieties were relieved by this recipe that has you heat the sugar right in a cake pan on the burner. The caramel gets hard but is then melted by the flan as it sits overnight in the fridge.

              And remember, it's only a little sugar. If it doesn't go right, wash up and start over.

              1. re: Steve

                The best flans I used to make were baked in a Pyrex angel food baker. Unfortunately I dropped it and broke it and they are no longer made. It was something my mother got in the 50's. But it produced some of the best creamiest flan and it was easy to slice and serve too and looked pretty when the flan was inverted onto a plate with the caramel all around.

              2. From Charlie Trotter's cookbook, he recommends adding 1 tbs of corn syrup to prevent the sugar from burning too fast when making the burnt sugar.