If you’re asking a Cuban who invented flan, they will say they did, but the truth is, the origins of flan are in Europe. It is a baked custard and burnt sugar dessert that you will find throughout South America and the Caribbean thanks to Spanish colonisation. To Cubans, though, this dessert is particularly important and they take it seriously. To the extent that every family has their version. Whole eggs versus egg yolks, or a combination of the two? Milk and cream, or just milk or sweetened condensed milk plus evaporated milk? My mom’s recipe included sweetened condensed and evaporated milk because, aside from some eggs, this would have been the most economical and readily available option. You see, when my family came to the United States as immigrants, they came with almost nothing. It was a struggle to survive and put food on the table, but they always had sugar; it was in their blood.
My mom’s family grew and processed sugar cane into sugar. It was the family business. Real sugar went in the coffee and there was almost certainly a dessert every night, even in the toughest of times. They all had a sweet tooth, Mom included. She loved a good dessert and this flan is her gift to me. I’ve made the tiniest of amendments because I’m a chef and I can’t help it, but this recipe comes from her and it will always be a flavour of home that I cherish: simple ingredients, prepared with a bit of love and patience. You do have to chill this overnight, after all. Serve with poached cherries or completely ungarnished; it’s perfect on its own.
- 150 g (5½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 1×375 ml (12½ fl oz/1½ cups) tin evaporated milk
- 1×355 ml (12 fl oz) tin sweetened condensed milk
- 120 ml (4 fl oz) full-cream (whole) milk
- 2 eggs, plus 5 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the poached cherries
- 100 g (3½ oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 2 strips lemon peel
- 1 vanilla bean, split
- 400 g (14 oz) sour or sweet fresh cherries; (if using sweet cherries, add the juice of 1 lemon to the poaching liquid)
- Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and boil a full kettle of water.
- Melt the sugar in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until it turns a dark amber colour. Use a wooden spoon to mix it once it starts caramelising to ensure that it all melts evenly. Immediately pour the caramel into the base of a non-stick loaf (bar) tin. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve directly onto the caramel. Cover the tin with aluminium foil and place it inside a larger baking dish. Place the dish in the oven, then pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the side of the loaf tin. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. At this point, check the texture: it should still be quite wobbly, but not liquid. If it is still liquid in the centre, continue cooking for another 15–20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the water bath. Once cooled, refrigerate, still covered, overnight.
- To make the poached cherries, combine the sugar, lemon peel, vanilla bean, 200 ml (7 fl oz) water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on the stove. Pit your cherries using a cherry pitter, or push them out using a metal straw.
- Add the cherries to the pot and simmer until they are soft but not bursting, about 5 minutes. Set aside until ready to serve.
- To unmould, cut around the sides of the custard and invert onto a flat plate. Cut slices and serve with or without the poached cherries.
Note: You can leave the cherries unpitted, just be sure to warn your guests.
This originally appeared on House & Garden UK | Danielle Alvarez