Nothing in the world is easier to make than a flan, or its mother, the gracious French lady called crème caramel. For Latin Americans, our love of flan is in our genes, in our blood, and in our surprisingly sweet palate. It is popular all across Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, and even though it may have lots of regional variations, it’s chore is always the same: baked milk and eggs covered in caramel. I have eaten it since I was a little girl, so did my parents, and so have my children, and I don’t think this continuity is going to end any time soon.
In Peru children start their love affair with flan at a very early age. There isn’t one single kid who hasn’t carried a portion of flan in his/her school lunchbox, or a house or restaurant that doesn’t make it regularly. It’s a dessert to celebrate everything, to comfort anyone, and to have in hand just to satisfy the cravings for something sweet. Nobody is free from indulging in this velvety, vanilla flavored custard covered with caramel sauce… So rich and addictive, but at the same time so innocent and homey.
The name is confusing for many people, especially because in French pastry vocabulary, a flan is a kind of tart with a baked crust and a creamy filling. What we Latinos know as flan is something quite different but equally delightful. Peruvians also call it crema volteada, which literally means “upside down cream”, and have turned their love for this ubiquitous dessert into a creative force, producing many versions of the original with as many flavors and textures as is possible to imagine: cream cheese, apple, pear, raisins, quinoa, lúcuma, coconut, corn, prunes, cinnamon… However, hands down, the original plain vanilla is the favorite all over the country.
Leche asada is another dessert from Colonial times that resembles flan, even though it´s less sweet, not as rich, and has a burnt top layer. It’s made with fresh milk instead, baked without the caramel, and the outer surface is burnt with a hot cast iron, (so it definitely is not a crème brulée or crema catalana either).
Here is our very simple and surefire recipe for flan. We use evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and eggs, all mixed together in a blender, and baked in a water bath, a.k.a. “bain marie”, to get that soft, creamy, delicate texture. It’s so easy that you can make it with success even if you’ve never boiled a pan of water in your life. The amount of eggs varies from recipe to recipe, and if you prepare it with whole milk instead, the result will be lighter and less creamy, but still delicious. A disfrutar!
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- Preheat the oven at 375° F.
- In a saucepan heat the sugar over medium high heat, moving constantly until it melts and forms a liquid caramel. Be careful not to let it burn because it will taste bitter. When it’s ready pour into a ( 9 inch) baking pan, covering all the inner surface with the caramel. Be very careful with your fingers, and don’t even dream of tasting it with your tongue. Hot caramel is dangerous. Let it cool.
- Blend eggs, milks and vanilla essence in a mixer. Pour into the baking pan.
- Put the baking pan inside a larger pan with about 2 fingers high of hot water.
- Bake for 1 hour. Let it cool completely.
- When cool, run a knife around the border and turn the flan over a bigger plate.
- **To soften the hard caramel at the bottom of the baking pan, put the empty baking pan over medium heat, with ⅓ cup water. Stir with a spoon until it softens and becomes liquid again, and pour over the flan.
- Keep refrigerated, and share with your loved ones.