When I was little, my mom, brother, and I would eat at this particular Mexican food place in town quite frequently. It was a very small building, basically just a kitchen, painted white with one green stripe and one red stripe around the top. The appearance was slightly scary, but they made super good burritos and taquitos, and the house salsa was superb. We usually drove through on our way to Grandma’s house to swim, or on our way to the library or some other errand.
On the drive-through window, there was a neon paper sign that read “FLAN” in black Sharpie and below it, one of those terrible flash-lit photos of some white round thing that had shiny caramel dripping down the sides. I saw that picture hundreds of times during my childhood, and always thought it looked like the grossest thing ever. I thought the name sounded terrible too. This was my attitude towards flan for a long time.
It actually wasn’t until I made flan myself this summer at the request of a family member that I finally tried it. I used a recipe from A Cozy Kitchen and it was actually delicious! Scented with vanilla and silky in texture- not eggy at all.
This riff is far from classic, but so good in its own way. The inspiration came when I drizzled a little bit of leftover salted caramel sauce over a ramekin of chocolate pots de creme several weeks ago.
The chocolate gives this flan a slightly thicker texture, but it’s still smooth and creamy. I will say that the hardest part of the recipe is making the caramel- something I still struggle with. Some things I have learned are to stick with it even if it looks hopeless, and don’t stir… swirl the pan instead. You can do it!!
The caramel will harden almost immediately after you pour it into the ramekins, before you have a chance to swirl it. I distribute the caramel to all of the ramekins and then microwave them one-by-one for 30 seconds. This will make the caramel as runny as it was originally and you can easily swirl it up the sides!
Recipe based on one from A Cozy Kitchen
1 3/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk (or 3/4 cup 2% + 1/4 cup half and half)
Pinch of salt
4 ounces dark chocolate, very finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
For the caramel:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
In a saucepan, heat the cream, milk, and salt over medium heat until the mixture is steaming and bubbles have formed around the edge. Add the dark chocolate, allow it to stand for about 5 minutes, then stir until all of the chocolate is melted and combined. Stir in the vanilla extract then set aside.
In a mixing bowl, gently whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar until well combined. Try not to create a lot of bubbles. Dribble 1/3 cup of the warm milk mixture into the eggs, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the milk and stir until smooth. Strain this mixture through a small sieve to make sure there are no lumps. Set aside while you make the caramel.
Pour the sugar into the bottom of a large pot. Pour the water gently over the sugar and stir gently to combine. With clean wet hands, wipe the sides of the pot to wash away any granules of sugar. Place over medium-high heat and wait for the sugar to boil. Don’t stir… only gently swirl the pan occasionally. Brush the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush frequently. Cook for the caramel for about 10 minutes, or until it’s a deep amber color.
Immediately pour equal amounts of caramel into 6 ramekins. If for some reason your caramel doesn’t harden almost instantly, tilt each ramekin to coat the bottom and about half way up the sides. If your caramel is hard, pop each ramekin in the microwave for 30 seconds, then tilt to coat. Place the cups in an empty 9×13 baking dish. Pour or use a spoon to distribute the custard equally among the ramekins. Fill the baking dish with water so that it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins, then gently place the dish in the oven. Bake on the center rack for about 45-50 minutes, until the flan is just set in the center.
Set each ramekin on a cooling rack and allow them to sit on the counter for 2 hours. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer them to the fridge to chill overnight.
When you’re ready to serve, gently run an offset spatula around each flan to loosen it. Set an upside down plate on top of one ramekin, turn over, and gently shake with two hands until you hear the flan release. Pull the ramekin off of the flan and let the caramel drain on top and down the sides. Repeat the process with the rest of the flan.
Note: The flan can be made 2 days in advance.