The Wondrous Voyage of Flan

Really, you are too kind. First you put up with my whining about writer's block and making you cook albóndigas soup. Then, I tried to ruin your figure by tempting you into wolfing down scrumptious little lumps of lard and flour called bizcochitos. And now this:

Flan clásico. How will you ever forgive me?
Its sweet creaminess, the luscious combination of eggs, milk and caramelized sugar create the perfect ending and counterpoint to the spiciness of a perfect Mexican meal. Take your spoon and feel its cool silkiness glide across your tongue. Now wasn't that maravilloso?
I have tasted a lot of flans, but I must say that no flan recipe calling for canned evaporated and condensed milk can compare with a flan prepared with the best ingredients you can find like fresh eggs, organic whole milk and pure cane sugar. The result is richer and more satisfying, and most certainly does not taste store-bought, the kiss of death as far as my taste buds are concerned. It is real. This flan, mi chiquita, is the one. If you don't want to take the time and trouble of cooking it from scratch, then don't start now—because I am warning you, a flan made with canned anything will never do after you try this.

A few years ago on a trip to la Madre patria, I must have eaten flan in Barcelona, in Valencia, in Madrid, and in a village on the Cantabrian Sea which bears the name of my husband's family (visiting that lovely place was the happy realization one of his childhood dreams). And with almost every bite, I thought of all the women who over the centuries emigrated to the New World alone or with their husbands or parents and brought this recipe with them.

When their ships pulled out of port to sail across the deep waters of the Atlantic and onward to the Port of Veracruz, when they watched Spain disappear over the horizon, how many tears did they shed because they knew that they would probably never return or ever again see the loved ones they left behind? Or, did they rejoice to be free from some of the constraints of the traditions of the Old World? Did they dream of gold and silver, of land and cattle and great haciendas? Or did their dreams turn to polvo—dust, only to be blown away by a cold Zacatacas wind? Did they love this strange new land with its chilies, corn tortillas and cactus? Or, were they as bewildered and as lonely living in the New World as our some of our mothers were when they first came to America?

What else did they put in their flan besides eggs and milk and sugar, but all the feelings to which fragile humans are prone, like heartbreak and hope, recuerdos and regret sometimes but also love?

These mujeres valientes—mighty women settled in The New World and shared their recipes with their own Mexican daughters, who in turn helped create a mingling of the cocinas of Spain and of The New World—Mexican cuisine as we know it today. They in turn shared what they knew with their daughters, and so on through the generations, until eventually some came to America, who shared what they knew with us, their daughters and grand daughters. And here I am today, sharing this flan recipe with you.

I hope that this flan will speak to me, that this old but very special recipe will reveal the secret to the courage and strength of all those women who dared to create a new life in a land half a world away, and who together with their indigenous sisters created a wondrous cuisine that never fails to to captivate mi corazon.

Flan Clásico

Adapted from Mexico the Beautiful cookbook, which is a classic in itself.
What you need:
2 saucepans
Measuring cups and spoons
Bundt cake mold or round cake pan
Large baking pan

Melt-proof spatula to spread caramelized sugar

Egg beater or whisk

Strainer (if needed)

A thin knife


1 ¼ cup cane sugar

4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract—less if you are stingy

pinch of salt

4 eggs

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place ¾ cup of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat and keep swirling until the sugar melts and turns a golden brown (CAUTION: The sugar is HOT!) Pour the caramelized sugar into mold or baking dish and make sure to cover the bottom and all sides. Do this quickly as the sugar cools fast. Set aside. (Note: if the caramelized sugar is difficult to spread because it has cooled down too quickly, do this: If your mold or pan is glass or ceramic, place in the microwave for about 15 seconds or so to melt it a bit. If using metal, partially submerge it in boiling water for a little while. Be careful, it is still very hot! Better yet, preheat the mold or cake pan in the oven for a few minutes prior to putting in caramelized sugar. It will swirl much easier that way.)
In a separate saucepan, combine milk, the rest of the sugar, vanilla and salt. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer uncovered until it is reduced by half, up to 15 minutes but no less than 10. Set aside.
Beat eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl. Separately, mix together cornstarch and 1 tablespoon cold water and pour into egg mixture. Gradually pour in sweetened milk. Mix well. Strain out bits of "cooked egg" from mixture, if any. Pour into mold or baking pan.
Cover mold or baking pan with foil. Set it in a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan up to 1 inch. Carefully place in the preheated oven and let it bake for 40 to 50 minutes; OR, until a knife inserted in the center of the flan comes out clean. M
ake sure you check doneness a little earlier if you are baking the flan in smaller bowls or individual-sized molds.
Remove from the oven and let the flan cool for about 30 to 40 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 2 or 3 hours, but overnight is best.
To remove flan, run a thin knife around the top edge. Then partially submerge pan or mold in hot tap water for a few seconds to loosen. Invert the mold or pan on a platter and serve cold.
If you find that the caramelized sugar is hard and is sticking to the bottom of the pan, just place it quickly over hot water to soften it.


Heather said...

This looks absolutely fantastic. One of these days, when I'm feeling brave, I'm going to make a whole Mexican meal from the recipes you post. (It may have numerous desserts... I don't know how I could choose just one!)
Beautiful story behind the food. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. Your comment touched my heart :)

La Traductora said...

Dear Heather and Maryann,
Thank you so much for your kind words!
La Traductora

Anonymous said...

Wow, I just love this recipe. And, yes, I have tried it and it truly is a wow-factor flan recipe. I couldn't stop making yummy noises with each bite. Thank you!

Ellen Bloom said...

Your flan looks amazing! If you're in Los Angeles, try the flan at Spain Restaurant, 1866 Glendale Blvd.'s really good.

La Traductora said...

Dear Ellen,
Thanks for the tip. I love flan and I LOVE LA--my hometown! (I'm still a Valley Girl at heart.)

Cristina Acosta said...

I love your blog!! Muchas Gracias for getting the word out about the beauties of Mexican food. Here's a flan recipe I developed. I call it "Creamsicle Flan," it's a gently citrus flavored flan that reminds me of the orange blossoms on the trees in the backyard of my childhood home.

Jan said...

I made your flan and gotta tell ya, it was divine. I will definitely make again. Thanks for one that is not condensed/evaporated cans!

Clementina said...

Hola, Jan!
I took a little peek at your blog, and you've got some great recipes there, although I have never seen cans of San Benito's tomatoes, I must admit that I am intrigued.

Rebecca said...

Hola! Gracias por la receta de flan! Lo hice ayer y mi novio mexicano lo encantó aunque dice que no le gusta el flan! I appreciate that someone is putting real Mexican recipes online! This page has been bookmarked!!!


Clementina said...

Hola, Rebecca,
I think I'll call this recipe Flan Haters Flan, because people who think they hate flan quickly change their mind when they taste it. I believe it's because it is cooked completely from scratch. The simplest recipes call for quality ingredients.
Dile a tu novio mexicano gracias por haberle gustado este flan!

Anonymous said...

Most of the times, the flan is always in our menu list. The taste of it is Divine

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