Popocatepetl (the Smoking Mountain) and Izacihuatl (The Sleeping Woman) were Aztec mythological lovers doomed by fate and circumstance and turned into mountains by the gods. Both majestic volcanoes remain brilliantly visible from Mexico City on a clear day. The legend has inspired endless soulful reinterpretations of fated love, passion, loss, and patriotism in contemporary much loved cancion ranchera and corrido songs by artists like Lola Beltran, Rocio Decal, and Juan Gabriel.
What does all this have to do with flan? Well, nothing other than adding a romantic dash of la vida Mexicana to spice up an otherwise simple custard dessert loved all over Mexico.
The recipe that follows is a classic flan, but easily adapts to the addition of flavors, so get creative and turn out flans with a personal flair for storytelling with food! It turns a simple dessert into an operatic taste experience!
Prepare ahead: Assemble 8 ¾ cup flan cups set in a baking pan lined with a kitchen towel
For the caramel:
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup water
Use a sauce pan with spout if you have one as this will simplify pouring the hot caramel into the flan cups.
Add the sugar to the pan and pour the water over the sugar. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. As the sugar melts into syrup and begins to color, begin to slowly swirl the pan to encourage even coloring. Continue swirling until the caramelized syrup is a rich amber color. Promptly remove from the heat and swirl until the bubbling subsides and then promptly pour into the flan cups and set aside while you make the custard.
Preheat the oven to 325F/165C with the oven rack set in the middle position along with an oven thermometer set in the center of the rack. Place a teakettle of water on the stove and bring to a boil while you are preparing the custard.
- 1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 8 whole eggs
Place the milk, sugar, cinnamon stick, and vanilla extract in a sauce pan and heat without boiling. Remove from the heat and allow cooling for a couple of minutes.
Beat the eggs in a bowl large enough to hold the milk mixture. Remove the cinnamon stick from the milk mixture and begin adding a ladle full of the warm milk mixture to the egg mixture while briskly stirring. This will temper the eggs and prevent the eggs from cooking. Continue adding the milk mixture to the egg mixture a ladle full at a time while stirring. Once all the milk has been added, stain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a pitcher or spouted bowl. This will remove any membrane or solidified eggs in the mixture.
Pour the strained flan mixture into the flan cups set in the baking pan, leaving ¼ inch at the top of each flan cup. Check your thermometer to be sure the oven temperature is correct and remove the thermometer. Close the oven door to let the oven to reheat briefly. Then pull out the rack and place the baking pan with the flan centered on the rack. Pour hot water into the pan to about ¾ of the way up the sides of the molds. Place a sheet of foil loosely over the cups and gently push the rack back into the oven and close the door.
Bake the flan for about 25 to 30 minutes, checking at the 25 minute point by giggling the pan to determine if the flan has set. The flan should still be wobbly in the center when done. Once that is confirmed, remove the pan from the oven promptly and set on a cooling rack. Remove the foil and allow the flan to cool in the water bath until cooled to room temperature.
If by chance the center of the flan is nearly firm, remove the flan cups from the pan and set them on the cooling rack until cooled to room temperature.
In either case, once cool, cover the flan cups with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
Serving: To unmold the flan simply snugly trace around the inner edge of the flan cup with a sharp knife. Place a serving plate over the flan cup and, using both hands to secure the plate, invert and with a firm downward motion release the flan from the cup. The top of the flan will be a dark caramel color and the syrup will glaze the sides of the flan and pool onto the plate. Serve at once.
For an extra flourish: I have crumbled rich dark chocolate cookies over the top of the flan as pictured. A nice touch that adds an additional indigenous taste bite to this very Mexican dessert!