When you go on a macaron-making binge, you’re inevitably left with a lot of egg yolks. You could make a bunch of things: pudding, mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, bearnaise sauce, caesar salad dressing, pastry cream, carbonara pasta, some kind of cream pie, or any variety of custards, just to name a few. My mind immediately goes to leche flan because it’s my mom’s go-to dessert for every family event (actually, it’s a Filipino party staple). My mom doesn’t really use a written recipe, but it always seems to come together nicely (well, except when she takes an Ambien and then forgets about it in the oven). Here’s a sample of her work:
For a potluck recently, I attempted my own version of this national dessert with some non-Filipino flavors.
Namely, my roommate had a huge package of lavender and no ideas for what to do with it. I had some oranges laying around from a fight against a cold. The end result was not too shabby! The clean citrus and floral flavors go well together, though be careful not to go overboard with lavender or it starts to taste like soap.
Though the recipe is easy, there are some details that are critical to a good flan. Like other custards, this is cooked in a water bath to regulate a gentle cooking temperature. Burnt Lumpia's post on leche flan, like all his posts, is quite informative on the more scientific explanation and other important details:
To prevent overcooking, and thus curdling the eggs in your Leche Flan, it should be baked in a water bath. In other words, the vessels containing the Leche Flan itself should be placed in a larger vessel (i.e. a large roasting pan) filled with boiling water. Why the all the trouble with the water bath? To answer this, because I was wondering too, I cracked open my trusty copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, a venerable food science bible. According to McGee, since the water in the water bath cannot heat past 212 degrees Fahrenheit, anything in the pan that the water is touching cannot reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit as well, even in a 350-degree oven! Therefore, the water bath allows for the very gentle cooking of the Leche Flan and prevents overcooking.
The other important step for a silky smooth flan is to strain the mixture with a cheese cloth or fine sieve before pouring into your baking dish of choice. My mom always left this step to me, and I loved the squishy feeling of the milk and eggs all over my hands as I squeezed last drops out of the cloth.
Here’s my “recipe.” Quotes are because I lost the piece of paper on which I wrote the ingredients down. Have no fear! Just try it out, and adjust on the next batch.
Orange Lavender Leche Flan
For the custard:
8-10 egg yolks
1 can condensed milk
2 cans full of whole milk
1 Tbsp. dried lavender
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
pinch of salt
For the caramel:
3/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
*a squeeze of fresh lemon
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Infuse lavender into whole milk. You can either gently warm the milk over stovetop (do not scorch) and add the lavender to steep for 10-15 minutes, or let the lavender steep in cold whole milk for 3 hours or so. Strain the lavender.
3. Locate/prep baking receptacles. You could be fancy and use ramekins. We always used 2 loaf pans, plus any small oven-safe small pans for any overflow (I used latte cups). You’ll also need to find a large enough roasting pan to act as your water bath, make sure it has sides at least 2 inches tall.
4. Make the caramel. In a small saucepan, boil sugar, water, and *lemon until it is a deep golden color. I didn’t let mine go long enough, so you’ll notice it’s on the light side.
5. Quickly coat the bottom of the baking pans and around the sides up about 1-1/2 inches. Work fast because the sugar will harden. Set in the pan that will be used for the water bath. Prepare a pot of water to boil.
6. If you’re using totally cold milk, you can mix all the ingredients in a large bowl: egg yolks, condensed milk, lavender-infused (and strained) whole milk, vanilla, orange zest, and salt. If you warmed the milk to infuse the lavender, you’ll have to slowly incorporate the cooled milk into the lightly beaten eggs (i.e., tempering), a ladle at a time a time, whisking continuously. Otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs (this sounds harder than it is).
7. Strain with cheesecloth or fine sieve. Pour into baking pans with caramel coating.
8. Carefully place the entire thing into center rack of the oven, slightly pulled out. Gently pour the boiling water into the pan for the bath, making sure that the water goes up at least 1-1/2 inches.
9. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Burnt Lumpia’s description for doneness is helpful: You’ll know it’s done when “the custards barely wobble in the center of the ramekins when the pan is jiggled. You can also check doneness by inserting a paring knife halfway between the center of the custard and the edge of the ramekin; if the knife comes out clean, the Leche Flan is done.”
10. When it is done, remove from oven and let cool. Cover tightly and refrigerate for several hours. Before serving, it can help to loosen the flan by dipping the bottom of the pan in hot water for a minute. Run a knife around the sides of the pan. Invert onto serving dish.
[*UPDATE: Forgot to note the squeeze of fresh lemon in the caramel, one of my mom’s secrets for the caramel. She says it’s supposed to help stabilize it or something. Will have to go consult some science books to confirm.]