If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting a flan—albeit, an excellent, home-made version, let me tell you, you’ve missed out on a very passionate, sweet love affair. I’m talking about hard breathing, sweating, all over your body, deep exhaling, tingling experience. Some chocolates can do that to me, but nothing gets to me like the flan mami makes! Sorry, tia U. (mom’s youngest sister), mami’s beats yours out…but your version comes in a close second.
The velvety smoothness of the cream cheese combined with the sweetness of the condensed milk and the flowery vanilla is a hit. You will not find this combination of texture and taste in regular custards or cheesecakes – only in a creamy flan.
So what is a flan? If you google it, you’ll find that flan can either be a ‘flat cake’ or a caramel custard sweetened with condensed milk. The dessert has French (crème brulee or crème caramel), German (flado cake) and Spanish (flan de queso) roots. The recipe has evolved over the centuries in Latin America, as well as Vietnam and the Philippines. It seems that everybody has their own version.
In Puerto Rico one of the most common versions includes coconut milk, hence, flan de coco or coquito. Other Latin American countries have their respective versions, such as Venezuela’s similar confection called quesillo. In Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay there are versions with similar ingredients and are called dulce de leche or dulce de membrillo. Ultimately, each version has their own cultural twist to the dessert and tends to be a favorite of the general population.
Now, back to mami’s simple and delicious version. Here is what you will need:
1 tsp of good vanilla
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1 can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 – 8 oz package of cream cheese
2 cups sugar for the caramel (I like mine with lots of caramel)
1 – 9”x 9”x2” nonstick pan; 1 – larger pan for water bath
First, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and set the larger pan with about 1-2 inches of water in oven. Make sure the 9×9 pan fits comfortably into the larger pan (I usually try it out first to make sure I have enough water to cover the sides of the smaller pan without the water getting into the flan).
Second, in a blender, mix the milks with vanilla first. Add the eggs to the milk mixture and blend thoroughly. Then blend in the cheese in small portions as the blender continues to stay ‘on’. Turn off blender and put aside.
Now, for the caramel, in a nonstick casserole, pour in the two cups of sugar with about 1/3 cup (or less) of water. Make sure the heat is on high. Let sugar melt with the water stirring occasionally. Bring the heat down to medium low and let simmer until it becomes an amber color – don’t let it burn. You’ll be able to smell the burnt odor if you leave it for too long.
The caramel that you have just made will then be poured into your 9×9 pan – you have to move quickly to ensure the caramel coats all the bottom of the pan and some of the sides. Use a spoon that you will then soak in hot water after you’ve completed coating the bottom of the pan. Be careful – the pan will be hot!
The next step is to pour the milky mixture into the pan you just coated. Cover with aluminum foil and carefully place in the second pan (the water bath you previously placed in the oven.)
Let the liquid flan cook for about 30 minutes covered. Then remove the foil and allow to fully cook for another 30 minutes – may take longer, depends on your oven. The flan will be very creamy but not wet – it will be firm, but not to the consistency of a cake; rather, more custardy. Remove from the heat and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Take a butter knife and run around the perimeter of the flan to allow the flan to move away from the edges. Shake the pan lightly until the flan is no longer sticking to the sides of the pan; proceed to flip flan onto a serving plate.
Once the flan is flipped onto the serving plate, make sure you get as much of the caramel as possible. Let the flan sit at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes and then let it cool in the refrigerator for another 20 minutes. Serve and enjoy! The leftover flan, if there’s any, should be stored in a covered container to ensure it doesn’t dry out.