Friday, February 14, 2014

Super Simple Mini Caramel Flans

I don't know how it is for you, but usually when I hear words like "custard cups" and "water bath" in a recipe that sits in my cookbook next things like "Soufflé" and "Crème Brûlèe," I feel a little intimidated! But because my dear hubby (who was born and raised in Paraguay) loves Flan, a while back I decided to give this recipe a go. I found it to be very doable and delicious, and I've since made it several times.

One thing I love about this recipe is that it uses just 4 simple ingredients that I almost always have on hand:  sugar, eggs, milk, and vanilla!

The first step is making the caramel sauce, which in theory is simple enough. Simply heat 1/3 cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, shaking it periodically so the sugar melts evenly.
Once the sugar begins to turn to liquid, turn the heat down to low and stir it with a woolen spoon. You'll cook it for about 5 minutes until it is a smooth, golden color.You do not want it be a dark brown, smoky concoction. Not that I've ever done that. (Ok, ok... the last time I made this recipe I burned one, if not two, batches of sauce because I kept it on the med-high heat for too long!) 
As soon as your sauce is done, pour it into your "custard cups." Custard cups. Is that a normal thing to have in your kitchen? For my generation? I suppose it should be, especially if you like mini flans! Well, I don't have any official 6 oz custard cups, but I do have 1 cup Pyrex dishes which work absolutely perfectly. 

Anyway, all that to say, evenly divide the sauce into 4 cups. You're supposed to tilt the cups so that the sauce coats the bottoms of the cups evenly, but I never have enough time to do that before the sauce hardens. No matter, it melts again when you bake the flan. Then 
*Now, at this point you might be freaking out when you look at your pan and spoon and see all of that caramel sauce cemented onto it and wonder how in the world you will ever scrub it clean again. I want you to just take a deep breath *breathe* then fill the pan with water and let it sit while you finish making your flan.
Next you combine 3 beaten eggs with 1-1/2 cups milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. You want to mix it until it combined well but not foamy. (If it's foamy you will have a very airy flan... some might like it that way, but we're going for a smooth creamy texture.)  Then pour it into your custard cups, evenly dividing it between the four dishes. (At this point you can top each dish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or, my personal preference, ground nutmeg.)
Pour boiling water into the baking dish until it's about 1 inch deep. This hot water bath helps keep the edges of the flan from overcooking before the center is done.  
Put your baking dish and mini flans into an oven preheated to 325 degrees and bake for 30-45 mins.

To check for doneness, insert a knife about 1 inch from the center. If it comes out clean, your flan is done.
Not done:

Remove the cups of flan from the water bath (otherwise they'll keep cooking). Let them cool completely in the cups. Cover (and this is when I LOVE using my Pyrex dishes!) and chill until you're ready to eat them. Ok so, I'm sure you are ready now, but wait until they're chilled anyway.

**Oh, and see?! Wherever the water touched caramel sauce it dissolved completely. No scrubbing needed! I told you everything was going to be ok...
When you're ready to serve dessert, run a knife around the edge to loosen it, then place a small plate over the dish and flip them over together. The sauce from the bottom of the dish will spill over the mini flan, bathing it in caramely sweetness.

Here's the recipe: 

Super Simple Mini Flans

adapted from Better Homes & Gardens' "Individual Caramel Flans"

Preheat Oven to 325
Bake 30-45 mins
Makes 4 individual flans

2/3 cup sugar (divided)
3 beaten eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
Ground nutmeg or cinnamon (optional)

1. Caramelize 1/3 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan (med-high heat until sugar begins to melt, shaking regularly). When sugar begins to melt, reduce heat and cook for 5 mins, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until sugar is melted and golden. Immediately pour sauce evenly into 4 small dishes (6 oz custard cups or 1 cup oven-safe dishes). Place the dishes into a baking dish.

2. Combine eggs, 1/3 cup sugar, milk, and vanilla, beating until combined but not frothy. Pour evenly into the custard cups. Top with nutmeg or cinnamon, if desired. 

3. Pour boiling water into the baking dish around the custard cups until waters stands about 1 inch deep. Bake at 325 for 30-45 minutes, until knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

4. Immediately removed the custard cups from the hot water bath, and allow to cool completely. Cover and chill until ready to serve. To serve the flan, run a knife around the edges to loosen, and then place a small plate over the dish and flip them over together. 


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