Baking Log 12 – 02.10.2012
Hello everyone. Long time no see!
It’s Rose, and I am back! >D< Please accept my sincere apologies for not coming back early in September as promised in the last post. I did finish writing my thesis back then, but had not sent it to my supervisor for checking yet, plus in my university, it is required of thesis writers to present their work in an academic environment and doing a maturity test after that. So many things to finalize this very last project, it made my brain go crazy all the time. Being such a perfectionism freak, I decided to do one thing at a time, finishing thesis and then restarting to blog, for both of their best interests.
I just presented my project to my supervisor (and to a group of junior students in his Internationalization course, O.M.G. I was super duper nervous then!!) last Thursday, then mentally supported Mr. Bear (Bear is Mr. Bear now, haha, he is a bachelor, guys.) on his thesis presentation on Friday, then having a rest day of hot pot and card games with my two girls, Bamboo and Meow
Please, *puppy eyes, blinking, blinking* don’t give up on me.
As a small token to “bribe” you guys :D, I will share my newest discover on the journey of perfecting a seemingly easy recipe – flan (also known as caramel pudding, Crème caramel, or custard pudding, that has many variations in different countries.). After about 10 attempts on the quest to find the recipe for and to make the perfect flan with both disastrous failures and great victories, I had come to a very surprising conclusion about this tricky dish; when it comes to flan, it might not be about finding the best recipe, but it’s more about perfecting the technique that create the luxurious, baby-butt smooth flan.
I used to make flans that came out like this. They were imperfect with spotted skin like acnes on a pretty girl’s face; it kinda ruined of the appetite, didn’t it? Moreover, it actually tastes a lot worse than it should have. Below image is for reference purpose only, no offense intended.
Now, I can make flan like this: smooth, flawless skin, and the taste, need not to speak more, a bit of heaven melt on your tongue.
Anyhow, I also have created a recipe for myself that tailors to Bear’s and my taste, while being economic at the same time, by using whole eggs instead of just egg yolks. The results are still great, as you have seen yourself, with softer feel in the mouth and lighter (less sweet, less rich) flavor that serves well as an after-dinner dessert and palate cleanser. So the choice is totally up to you, either you can try out my recipe, or perfect yours with the technique demonstrated as below.
In the demonstration, I doubled my recipe that make in total four ramekins, one more heart-shaped ramekin and one 15-centimeter cake pan. If you are also a fan of flan, or have a big family/ group of friends to impress, I suggest that you double the recipe for economy purposes.
(For four small-sized ramekins as seen below)
Caramel for Molding
- 60g white granulated sugar + enough water to moisten them (about 20ml)
- 2 tsp. of water (to loosen up the caramel, prevent it from harden too much at the bottom of the ramekins)
- 3 whole eggs
- 375ml whole milk (for richer version, use 375ml half and half or replace 150ml milk with 150ml heavy cream, meaning 225ml milk + 150ml heavy cream in total. You can make up your own porpotion to your taste.)
- 100g white granulated sugar
- 1 tsp. Vanilla extract
- 1 pinch of salt (believe it or not, a bit of saltiness makes every dessert better)
Extra Caramel Sauce (Optional)
- 60g white granulated sugar + enough water to moisten them (about 20ml)
- 2 tbsp. of water to loosen up the caramel into thick syrup (more or less water depend on your preference of thickness)
- A splash (5ml) of Amaretto/Bourbon/Kahlúa/Grand Marnier/Cognac/Rum or flavored liqueur of your choice for a more mature, adult-like taste (optional, kindly remove this ingredient if there are children.)
- A splash (5ml) of lemon juice for more complex taste (optional, I usually use water or just omit it because I like the simple taste of caramel itself)
Making the Custard filling
Step 1: in a heavy bottom saucepan, measure sugar and milk (or milk-cream mixture). Heat it on a medium-high heat until the milk nearly boils, about 80 degree Celsius. You will start seeing foam forming and steam coming out of the mixture surface.
Step 2: while waiting for the milk to heat up, crack eggs into a large heatproof bowl. Add a pinch of salt. Use a hand whisk to break the yolks and mix well.
Note 1 – I saw many recipes put great emphasis on not mixing the egg too much, leading to too many bubbles. I totally agree that bubble is the greatest enemy of smooth flan. However, I do not come to such great extent where you barely dare to move faster than a snail because you are afraid of bubbles. Of course, whisking eggs will form bubbles in some ways, that’s fact; while great cooking and baking is also about having fun along the way! Therefore, I suggest that we should not stress our hands too much, shall we? Just mix with normal speed as you usually do, until the mix is well blended and there are no visible egg white strings. Some minor bubbles are totally fine, as long as they do not come to such extremes where egg whites start to foam up.
Note 2 – Some recipe might call for cool milk mix straight with eggs and sugar with no need to tempering. I think that with a whole egg recipe like my recipe, the tempering actually a very important step, because it will make the egg mix better with the milk, as well as reducing the egg unpleasant smell and the risk of easily overcooking the flan due to large amount of egg whites; ultimately leading to better taste and texture. However, do not boil the milk as it will be too hot and possibly will curdle the egg mixture.
Step 3: When the milk just begins to boil (80 degree C), get it out of the stove. Use a ladle on one hand to distribute milk in small amount into the egg mixture, while the other hand constantly stirring the egg mix at medium speed with a hand whisk, like in this picture, until the milk is completely mixed with the eggs. Result of this step is a half-cooked custard or a tempered egg-milk mixture. The thickness of this mix should be a tad thicker than milk, but far thinner than fully cooked egg custard.
Step 4: Strain the custard mixture through a fine sieve to remove any lumps or egg curds formed in the process of tempering the eggs.
Let the mixture sit in room temperature for 10-15 minutes until completely cool. If in a hurry, you can let the bowl sit in an ice bath to cool it faster.
While waiting for the egg mixture to cool down, preheat the oven to 150 degree Celsius. Then proceed with the making of molding caramel.
Making the caramel for molding
Step 1: in a small, heavy bottom saucepan, measure sugar and splash in enough water to moisten the sugar. Heat it on medium high heat for about 2-3 minutes without stirring to caramelize the sugar.
Note 3 – This method is called wet caramelization. It gives you greater control in the process, especially in preventing the crystallization and too fast darkening.
Step 2: When the sugar reach amber color like shown below, get it off the heat because it will cook further to the point of burning really, really fast now. Give it some stirs by moving the pan in circular motion, holding the pan handle(s).
Step 3: Add 2 tsp. of water into the hot caramel. Be careful not to burn yourself! It will splatter and bubble up quite fiercely. Stir with a heatproof spoon until combining as a caramel sauce.
Step 4: work quickly and extra carefully (My most sincere advice for you. I sacrificed the tip of my left index finger for this tip :() to distribute spoonful of super hot caramel into each mold. You can either divide the caramel for all, then give each mold a sway to coat the bottom of the ramekins with caramel, or divide the caramel and sway one mold at a time.
Let the coated ramekins sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes, the caramel will harden up very quickly. Now, if you interest in making the extra caramel sauce, it is now the time. Let’s go!
Making the extra caramel sauce
The purpose of making extra caramel sauce is to serve those picky eaters like me, who always want to shake things up a little, bring it to a new level. As many might notice, the original caramel liquid of the flan is always very thin. Have you ever eat a flan where you saw their caramel sauce was very thick and tasteful, and wondered how that could be possible? I did, and so impressed that I had to do lots of research on where does that thick, heavenly sauce came from. Very fortunate of me when I came across this wonderful post of Chef Pépin about flan, here http://blogs.kqed.org/essentialpepin/2011/09/11/flan-a-la-vanille-with-caramel-cognac-sauce/ and knew that I have tickled the right spot.
Therefore, in case you are the same perfectionist as I am, or want to “wow” those special some ones with a surprising touch, double the amount of sugar you used to make molding caramel, proceed to step 4 of the previous instruction. You will end up with the extra half of caramel in the saucepan.
Step 1: Now, put the caramel pan back to the still hot stove (do not need to turn it on again), give it quick sways until the caramel is hot and melted into liquid again (careful not to burn it into charcoal) and pour in 2 tbsp. of water to thin the super hot caramel. Stir well till combined. The mixture will be a bit thin that you might think there is a problem somewhere. I assure you, there is none.
Step 2: Get the saucepan off the stove; pour the thinned caramel into a heatproof bowl. You can see it is very thin, almost liquid-like, here in the picture below.
Step 3: Let cool in room temperature or in an ice bath to reduce waiting time.
After about 10 minutes or so later, you will see that the sauce is cooled and thickening very much, almost malt-like.
Step 4: Now mixing in the flavored liqueur of your choice, I used a coffee liqueur this time, and lemon juice.
Step 5: After that, the sauce is ready to serve on flan, or on other dishes.
It store well in an airtight container in the fridge for at least 1-2 weeks. When serve, use a warm spoon to give it a little stir if too thick, then drizzle over chilled flan dish after reducing the original caramel liquid from the baked flans.
Technique to the perfectly smooth flan
As I said as the very beginning of this post, when it comes to flan, it is not about the recipe, but more about the technique to create this perfect dessert.
The method I use for flan is Water-Bath baking, known as the Bain-Marie method. It simply mean baking the flan while placing the ramekins in a roasting pan filled with hot water until it is 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins, used in delicate dishes where heat has to be transferred gently, prevent the dish from curdling or burning. The bain-marie method requires lower heat with longer baking times than normal baking; however, the results are so great, it’s worth waiting!
Step 1: Boil about 1 liter of water (more or less depend on the size of the deep baking pan/dish mentioned in the next step, it should fill up to ½ of the pan), leave aside and proceed immediately with the next step. You can skip this step if you want to, and use normal water instead. Using boiled water tremendously reduces the baking time; however, increasing the risk of over-cooking the custard, especially when you have not discovered the “golden” temperature in your oven. You call?
Step 2: So, what I do now is to line a deep baking dish/pan that can hold the flan dishes with TWO layers of kitchen towels, place the ramekins into it, like shown below.
Note 4 – I use the black, thin baking pan that comes with the oven, so it gets hot very quickly; therefore, I have to line 2 layers of towels to lessen the heat fierceness. If you use aluminum thick, higher-quality baking pan, you can line only one layer of towel. Kindly experiment many times to have better results. Put the caramel coated ramekin into the lined baking pan.
Step 2: Now that the oven has been well heated at 150 degree Celsius; the boiling water is ready; the caramel coat is completely harden; and the half-cooked custard is cooled to room temperature; it’s time to perform the magic trick. Gently fill the coated ramekins with custard filling. Do not pour too fast, or too high; to prevent the filling to bubble up (you waited this long to let the bubbles settle for itself, didn’t you?).
You should fill the cups to about ¾ of its size for better-looking-and-tasting flans.
Note 5 – If you want a smooth flan surface, you might want to cover the ramekins with aluminum foil, like this. I kinda like a little dry skin on top of the flans; therefore, I omit this step.
Note 6 – Don’t pour water in yet like I did below. Big mistake! A hot pan filled with boiling-hot water and almost full ramekins are definitely not your hands’ best friends.
Step 3: Carefully transfer the EMPTY pan that lined with towels together with the filled ramekins into the heated oven. Now, pour the prepared hot water into the deep, lined baking pan (not into the ramekins :P).
Step 4: Close the oven door and let it bake for approximately 30-35 minutes until the custard is “just set”. Check the oven every 15 minutes.
Note 7 – Definition of “just set”: This is a very vague, yet a very important concept in perfect flan baking. “Just set” is the moment when you tap the edge of the ramekins/pans; the flans feel firm at the outer part near the edge, but somewhat wobbly in the center (WOBBLY, not be at all liquidly felt). The surfaces of the flans are completely flat. You may be tempted to cook the finished flan a little more because it seems a bit strange to have call a jiggling dish fully cooked, but please don’t. Overcooking is what causes that “acne-like” look of the imperfect flans and gives it a too eggy taste plus a bit rubbery, unpleasant texture. I did not feel this moment the first time I made flan, either, so don’t worry too much. I hope that once you’ve baked for once or twice more (and you will want to make them often after trying it, for sure), you’ll get the feel of when it is done.
Note 8 – If you use normal water for water bath solution, you might experience longer baking time, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Note 9 – If you bake in different mold size, the baking time will change accordingly. For instance, my 15cm-pan flan needs about 45 minutes to reach “just set” stage.
Note 10 – You might want to increase the baking temperature with hope to decrease the baking time. Worst mistake that you will forever regret, believe me, I did! One time, I tried to bake flan in 175 degree C oven within 30 minutes, the flan surface started to inflate when the water solution in the bain-marie pan underneath started boiling. It did not completely ruin the flan to the extreme of inedible, however, it is so much worse than it should have been if I was a bit more patient with the dish. So, my advice to you, bake at low (but not too low, otherwise, flans won’t set at all) temperature for longer time, your patience shall be rewarded.
Note 11 – There is other way to cook the flans that is very common in Vietnam, steaming it. This method produces softer, smoother flans in shorter time if done correctly. However, I think that this method is very risky, especially when you do not in control of the precise steaming temperature. Furthermore, I feel that the flan produced by the water-bath method seems a bit firmer, more yellowish, and intensified in taste. If you want to try it out, set up a steaming pot, pour enough water in, heat to shimmering point then reduce the heat to low to keep the water at that level, place the flan ramekins inside, close the lid covered the inside with a clean kitchen tower to prevent the steaming water to drop on the flan surface. Steam it for about 20-30 minutes until the flan is “just set”; check every 15 minutes.
Note 12 – If you do some research on the Internet, you will be interested in how the temperature for water-bath baking flan varies from 150 to 170 degree C, to some extreme of 185 degree C. Why this happened? Actually, there is no exact temperature for flan, just a range of possibilities. For instance, my oven is a bit hotter than normal oven with higher heat from the upper side. Therefore, I have to arrange my baking pan to the lowest rack of the oven and baking at 150 degree C. If you have more accurate oven, you can try the middle rack and 160 degree C. It really depends on each oven; I have to tell the truth. Therefore, if you find 150 degree C too low or require too long baking time for your case, next time, you might want to do some other experiments in the oven. They always say: Practice makes Perfect, don’t they?
Step 5: Now that the flans is ready. Take the baking pan together with all in it out of the oven and leave the flan to cool in the water for at least an hour.
Once cooled, cover with cling film and transfer to the fridge. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Step 6: To serve the chilled flans, run a thin knife all the way around the edge of the ramekins break the seal; some caramel liquid oozing out is completely normal.
Step 7: Place a fairly deep serving plate on top of the ramekin; flip them over. Holding both the plate and flan ramekin tightly together, give a small shake. The custard should then drop down on to the plate. Pour any caramel in the dish over the custard. If the flan refuses to leave the tin, dip the ramekin bottom very quickly into a bowl of just-boiled water and try this process again. Here we have, perfectly smooth and super tasty flans.
Serve well as it is. If you want to try a bit of Vietnamese-styled caramel flans, drizzle a bit of espresso and thick coconut milk on top, serve cool with small-crushed ice. I love flan so much; I eat it straight. Each time is a burst of heavenly flavor on the tongue,yet the texture is so soft and delicate, it just flies into the throat, uhmm. A spoonful of this, and you just cannot stop until the whole cake is up.
Two common problems and solutions
Problem 1 – Flans do not set.
This can be caused by too low baking/steaming temperature or too short baking time. Alternatively, the recipe proportion of egg and milk is not adequate (too much milk for instance).
To fix this, try increasing either baking time to about 10-15 minutes more, or increase the baking temperature about 10 degree C more than the current. If you try these solutions and the flan is still not set, it might be time to try another recipe.
Problem 2 – Flans have ugly bubbles all around it; also the inside is not smooth.
This is caused by too high baking/steaming temperature or too long baking time that makes the milk start boiling in the mixture, lead to overcooked flan.
To prevent (no fixing possible at this stage, unfortunately :() Carefully reread the 12 notes that I have mentioned in this post. Through my own experiments, these are the best that I can give you.
Some variations of dessert flan you might want to try out
1) Replace the milk with alternative liquid, such as:
- Leche Flan – Replace the amount of whole milk and sugar mixture with the same amount of condensed milk or cooked duche de leche diluted in water or evaporated milk with proportion of 1 part condensed milk (or duche de leche) – 1 part water (or evaporated milk).
- Coconut Flan – Replace half the amount of milk or all of it by thick coconut milk. I usually replace only half of it for lighter taste.
2) Flavor the flan with additional ingredients
- Liqueur-flavored Flan – Replace about 2-3 tbsp. of milk by flavored liqueur of your choice, such as Amaretto/ Bourbon/ Kahlúa/ Grand Marnier/ Cognac/ Rum or for a more mature, adult-like taste. Intense espresso that makes coffee flan is also included in this type (Not suitable for children)
- Flavored Flan with flowers, extracts, or spices – For instance, using of lavender rose, or chamomile, pandan/mint almond extract, or cinnamon/nutmeg, etc.
- Cream Cheese Flan (Flan de Queso) – replace up to 1/3 amount of milk by soft cream cheese. Beat the cream cheese first with eggs and sugar, and then cooperate with milk or evaporated milk using a spatula. The mixture will be thicker than of normal flan.
- Pumpkin Flan (or Flan with Fruit puree) – Replace up to 1/3 amount of milk by fruit/pumpkin puree. The procedure is the same as cream cheese flan.
- Chocolate Flan – Replace ¼ amount of milk by melted chocolate diluted slowly in the remaining amount of milk.
Wheww, best workout ever! (For both my hands and brain) I miss blogging so much that this time, I think I have (once again) overdone a post. I hope you guys keep up with me till now (as you are always very kind to me). Now, I might need a little rest from the computer or my brain might go numb (yet again), haha.
See ya, this time, real soon.
It is good to be back!
P/S: What do you think I should write about next? I have so many ideas and pictures pending now; it is hard to choose. So what are you interested in? Baking or Cooking? Vietnamese or International? Since it is a dessert this time, I am thinking about a demo for a Vietnamese savory dish known as “Banh Xeo”, how’s that sound?