I am a scientist who loves to cook because there are many similarities between working in a lab and cooking in a kitchen. I love to share my cooking experience with you and to inspire others to cook.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Butterscotch Flan

In Malaysia, this dessert is simply known as pudding and I learned the word Flan after I came to the US. This kind of dessert wasn’t readily available when I was growing up. After years of eating flan in America, I slowly develop a preference for flans that have softer texture and less egg-y.
I have recently borrowed a book from the library called “Ready for Dessert” by David Lebovitz. David was a pastry chef at Chez Panisse in San Francisco before “retiring” and moving to Paris to live a “sweet life”. I first learned about David Lebovitz through reading his book “The sweet life in Paris” when I was preparing for my trip to Paris a few years ago. I highly recommend “The Sweet life in Paris” if you are planning to visit Paris and if you love sweets. Anyways, back to the book “Ready for Dessert”, there is a flan recipe in this book and I have decided to make flan from scratch for the first time.

“Butterscotch Flan”

First, make the caramel. This version of caramel is called the wet caramel since water is used. Also, David Lebovitz is very particular about how you should make this.

¼ cup of water + ¼ cup of water (yes, two sets of ¼ cup of water)  (why two sets? You will find out later)
¾ cup of granulated sugar
Pinch of crème of tartar or a few drops of lemon.

1.     Set ramekins or custard cups (I used small Pyrex bowls) in a roasting pan or deep baking dish (I used a rectangle cake pan).
2.     Spread the sugar on a heavy-bottom skillet. (Notes: You want to use a heavy-bottom skillet to prevent the sugar from heating too fast and unevenly)
3.     Pour in ¼ cup of water over the sugar. Do not stir the sugar.
4.     Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves
5.     Add crème of tartar or a few drops of lemon. (Notes: I found out later that “acid” prevents dissolved sugar from recrystallization).
6.     Continue cooking without stirring but swirl the pan if the sugar begins to brown unevenly.
7.     When the caramel turns dark amber in color and begins to foam a bit, remove from the heat and immediately add the remaining ¼ cup of water and stir the mixture. More foam will form but it will subside immediately. Make sure there is no harden pieces.

You will need to pay attention when caramelizing because split seconds can turn good caramel to burnt caramel. Since this was my first time making caramel, I had to judge for myself what is dark amber color. (See picture bellow). Also, the foaming sugar can be a little scary if this is your first time making caramel. As long as you know what you are doing, and anticipate what is going to happen, you will be fine. I think the second cup of water is added to stop the caramelization process.

8.     Divide the caramel evenly into the ramekins or custard cups or in my case, small Pyrex bowls.
9.     Set this aside to cool. 

Dark amber color caramel

3 cups of whole milk
4 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 ¼ cup of dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract
a big pinch of salt

1.     Preheat the oven to 325F
2.     Warm the milk in a medium sauce pan/pot. (note: you want to use very low heat, you don’t want to boil the milk)
3.     In a separate bowl (use a large bowl), whisk the eggs and egg yolks.
4.     Pour the warm milk carefully into the bowl of whisked egg (hence large bowl) while gently stirs the mixture.
5.     Add the sugar, vanilla extract and salt. Whisk until the sugar dissolves completely
6.     Strain the mixture into a jug or another clean bowl.
7.     Pour the custard mixture over the cooled caramel (or use a ladle).
8.     Add warm water to the roasting pan/cake pan up to midlevel of the ramekins.

(note: you are essentially creating a water bath, and the reason for this is to allow gentler and even cooking of the custard)

9. Cover the entire cake pan with aluminum and put the pan into the oven. (Be careful, the pan is heavy)
10. Bake for 25-35 minutes
11.  Check the done-ness by shaking the ramekin gently. The edges should be set but the middle is still slightly jiggly.
12. Cover the flan and store it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Overnight will be the best. 
13. Slide a knife around the custard and invert the flan on to a pan.

Straight out from the oven
Nothing but deliciousness

1. I tried the first flan after 2 hours of cooling in the refrigerator. The center of the flan was still "liquid-y" like the core of a molten chocolate cake. This problem subsided when I tried the flan the following morning. 
2. This flan is on the softer side of the "texture spectrum", I would like it a little firmer. I think there are a few factors that affect the texture. One, cooking time, we baked this thing for 40 minutes, 10 minutes longer than the recommended temperature. Should I do this longer? Every oven is built differently. Perhaps I need to ensure that the center of the flan is less jiggly before I take it out. Second, I think how much water was added to the cake pan is also crucial. I added water higher than the mid point of the custard. In the future, I will add water slightly bellow the mid point of the custard. 
3. I am used to flan with "custard-color" interior. This flan is brown due to dark brown sugar. I will use regular sugar in the future.
3. I always thought butterscotch involves "scotch" but it does not. This recipe neither uses butter. It should just be called "Flan" :)

Overall, my food-testers all enjoyed the flan.  Making this kind of dish involves a lot of subjective judgements ie: caramel color, cooking time, and "jiggle-ness". In this case, the old saying is true, "practice makes perfect".


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