The Flan from Hell

Caramel with seeds

I am constantly amazing myself.

It started off as such a beautiful day.  The sun was shining.  We walked the dog and saw the seals frolicking in the bay.  Oh, how lucky we were.  And I had a good feeling about the flan that I was assigned to make for a dinner party tonight.

Admittedly, in the past I’ve had nothing but problems with flans.  This time it was going to be different.  Really.  Flan.  Why does this dessert allude me?  It’s the caramel.  And specifically it is the transfer of the caramel into the pan.  It is easy to screw up.  First, the writer of recipes really can’t be there to say, “Now.  Take that sugar water than is about 1400 degrees hot off the burner and pour it into said pan and then roll the pan around so the caramel coats the pan everywhere, even up the sides of the pan.”  No.  The writer of the recipe cannot be with you to tell you exactly when.  And that seems to be the crux of the problem for me.

Now, knowing this in advance should aid me in the search of the proper flan.  So, what did I do?  Well, I picked out a recipe that really couldn’t be much more difficult.  In fact, it maybe the most difficult flan recipe ever.  In my own defense, it just looked so interesting.

But I digress.

So, I made the custard.  No big deal although the non-cook may not appreciate the finer points of custard making.  The most important thing to know is that you cannot add eggs into hot milk.  The heat will cook the eggs and you’ll end up with clumps of eggs.  Ugh.  You must whisk the eggs to “heat-proof” them.  I did this and thus avoided the only mistake one can make with custard.  Oh, except that I didn’t have any vanilla beans and the recipe called for vanilla bean.  So I substituted vanilla paste.  It was then time to make the caramel.

The recipe I chose included annatto seeds.   OH, and the recipe also called for 12 ramekins as each was to hold 4 oz. of custard.  So this meant I had to not only know when the caramel was ready, but I had to pour the caramel into 12 separate dishes.  WHAT WAS I THINKING?

What happened was that the annatto seeds turned the sugar water reddish thereby making the decision of when to remove the caramel from the heat all the more difficult.  Then, the annatto seeds needed to be removed which meant straining the caramel through a strainer into each cup.  OMG.  I ended up with spots of varying shapes on the bottom of each cup.  They resembled Rorschach tests.   Elephant?  Rabbit?  Richard Parker?  And there were drips of caramel all over the stove, in the pan for the bain marie.  The kitchen looked like a cyclone came through.  Oh, the bain marie.  That’s a fancy french term for water bath.  You put the filled cups in a pan and then fill the pan with water about half way up the side of the cups.  And if that’s not difficult enough, you cover the whole affair with tin foil and bake.

But let me digress.

I could not leave each cup with it splotches of caramel so I put each cup over a flame on the stove until the heat caused the caramel to move.  And then I picked off the caramel that stuck to the inside of each cup.  It was at this point that I just knew my friend, Pat, really didn’t like me.  Why?  Because she is the one that asked me to make it!!

The recipe writer reported that this recipe would make 12 as noted earlier.  Fat chance.  It made 7.  So much for saving the extra custard for ice cream which the recipe writer suggested in the event of too much custard.

And I think I will send the recipe writer a bill for the tea kettle.  I emptied my tea kettle of water into the pan for the bain marie and then place it back on the stove.  It was daytime.  I could not see the flame and these new fangled appliances do not indicate if a gas burner is on or not.  So, it is not entirely my fault that when I noticed the tee kettle was hot to the touch…it was on the verge of incineration.   OMG.  What else could possible go wrong?

Well, the custard did not firm up like the recipe suggested.  They have been in the oven for about 45 minutes and counting.  And just as I typed the last sentence, water in the tee kettle boiled over onto the  burner which made that sound of water steaming as the water hit the  flame.  So I just returned from adding more hot, boiling water to the bain marie.  And when I put pushed the oven grate back in to the oven, the water in the bain marie spilled onto the oven floor and made that noise of…well you get the picture.  I just covered the pan up with tin foil, set the timer for another 5 minutes and resumed my thesis on why I am unable to make a good flan.

And when they are done, I then have to make more caramel because the recipe calls for caramel dipped bay leaves and star anise for the top of each custard, of which I have 7 which means that if these ever get done, the Rayman and I will need to split one because there will be 8 of us at dinner tonight.

OMG.  Pat really doesn’t like me.





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