“Flan,” Abuela blurted. “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. When your abuelo Pedro was courting me my mother used to make him flan. He couldn’t resist it. Make him a flan and he’ll throw himself at your feet.”
I had so much fun writing this chapter! The recipe Grace uses belongs to my mother and is also featured in the back of the book, but since you're reading my blog you get first dibs at it. So here it is, Pioneer Woman style:
Carmen Palacios' Flan de queso
Grace had seen her mother make countless flans in her lifetime. But she’d never actually made one herself.
“You know what’s funny, Abuela?”
Before Grace could finish, Abuela’s gaze went back to the television screen. “Eggs, sugar, evaporated milk…” When Grace didn’t do anything, Abuela shooed her with her hand. “You know what goes inside!”
Okay, so Grace has an unfair advantage because as you've just read, she's seen her mother make countless flans. But I'll tell you exactly what goes inside. Here it is:
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 8 ounce cream cheese, softened
dash of salt
Put all the ingredients in a blender. And mix.
Grace placed the remaining ingredients into a blender and whirled them together. She took a second to sniff the frothy liquid. The smell of vanilla wafted up enveloping her in familiar comfort.
Put the blender aside and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure out 2 additional cups of sugar and place in a skillet over med/high heat. This will make the caramel for the flan.
She set the stove for medium heat, then dumped two cups of sugar into a skillet.
“The secret to a good flan is to make enough syrup so that the custard doesn’t stick. Did you put in sufficient sugar?” Abuela asked.
Eventually, the sugar will start to dissolve. This is the part where you must have patience. The whole process only takes about 10-15 minutes but it always seems longer to me. Every once in a while, give the skillet a little shake. It's probably not really necessary, but it gives you something to do.
Grace gave the skillet a jiggle. Watching the sugar melt was her favorite part. The transformation from solid to liquid as the white crystals morphed into a lovely brown liquid caramel, all gooey and hot. As a child the temptation to stick her finger in the syrup had always gotten her a whack on the bottom. But it had been worth it each time.
He began walking her backward, his kisses turning her from a solid into a warm liquid caramel, all bubbly and hot and easy to slide around, just like the sugar in her flan.
Woops! That's from a much later chapter. But you get my drift...
So, back to the recipe. Place the melted caramel mixture into a Bundt pan or other pan with a hole in the center, making sure you coat as much of the pan with the caramel as you can. Be careful, the pan will get hot!
Let the caramel set for a couple of minutes, then gently pour the liquid egg mixture into the pan.
She got out the pan her mother used to bake the flan, set it on the counter and frowned. Something was missing…
“You need to make a bano de Maria. So that the flan doesn’t stick to the pan,” Abuela said.
A bano de maria is basically a larger pan filled with an inch of so of water. Place the Bundt pan inside the larger pan with the water. This helps the custard to "set." PS: the n in bano needs a squiggle over it but I can't figure out how to do it.
Place the entire set up in the oven at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until flan is brownish and firm. Test with a toothpick to make sure it's done. If the toothpick is still wet, it needs longer cooking time.
Take the flan out of the bano de maria and let cool to room temp, then refrigerate. When you are ready to serve the flan, set it at room temp for about 30 minutes, then flip it. This is what you get if your flan isn't cooked well enough or you try to flip it when it's still warm. Not pretty.
“Don’t forget to cool it well before placing it in the refrigerator,” Abuela said. “But when you’re ready to flip it, make sure it’s been at room temperature first. Do you have a plate to serve it in?”