Easy-as Lemon Flan (Creme Caramel)
Creme caramel (or flan) brings back memories of when my mother and I used to go to a particular restaurant called The Buttery. That was also where I first had a banana split, which I used to eat by mashing up the ice cream into a gooey mess before digging in. Their chicken chop was also a favourite of mine, with their crisp breading and mushroom sauce. And when I wasn't having the banana split for dessert, I was having the creme caramel. Silky smooth, with a sticky dark caramel sauce. I remember being fascinated by that dark top layer and wondering, how did they do that?
Later when I went to university, I discovered instant, powdered 'purin', the Japanese version of creme caramel. That held me over for a while before I dared to venture into the kitchen, and then I found a recipe for a lime flan. Holy crap! People can make this from scratch! I dived right into that and made it regularly (as a lemon flan as that is my preferred citrus) for years.
Then I lost the recipe because the site it was on had been deleted, and I hadn't made it in a while so couldn't remember how to make it. But now, after some experimentation and some horrendous failures with split/curdled custards, I've come up with a recipe that a) produces a beautiful, lemony, smooth flan, and b) closely resembles my memory of the recipe I used to make compared to some others I've seen. It used milk (not condensed milk), lemon juice (not zest) in the custard (not the caramel) and is made of common pantry staples, so it can be made all the time!
Lemon Flan or Creme Caramel
(makes 4-6 servings)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
Ingredients (custard filling):
2 1/4 cup milk (or if you want it super rich, cream)
1/4 cup (or 4 tbsp) lemon juice, fresh or bottled
3/4 cup sugar
5 medium egg yolks
4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1) To make the caramel, put both the sugar and the water into a medium-sized heavy-bottom pot/saucepan over a medium heat. Do not stir.
2) Meanwhile, take a baking pan and put maybe half an inch of hot water in it, it doesn't need to be much. Put your ramekins into the pan. Warming the bottoms of the ramekins will prevent the caramel from hardening too quickly before you have a chance to coat them.
2) As it turns into a syrup and then starts to brown, swirl the pot so it heats evenly and to sweep any sugar crystals off the sides. When it starts to turn a deeper, amber colour, take it off the heat. Working very quickly (!), pour the caramel into the ramekins, swirling each one to fully coat the bottom before moving on to pour the next one. Set the ramekins aside.
3) Pre-heat the oven to 160C (320F).
4) Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Only heat it enough that steam is rising off the surface of the milk, it should not simmer or even get close. This is because the acid in the lemon juice will cause the custard to split if the milk is too hot. Take the milk off the heat and set aside.
5) Beat the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in a bowl big enough to also catch all the milk. Whisking as you go, slowly pour the lemon juice into the egg mixture in a thin stream. The next step is to add the milk, SLOWLY. It is important to add the hot milk very slowly to 'temper' the egg mixture so it doesn't cook it and make scrambled eggs.
6) Stir/whisk as you add a small amount of the hot milk to the egg mixture in a thin stream. Repeat a couple more times, adding just small amounts of the milk. Finish adding the milk, slowly and in thin streams as you whisk continuously. Finally, whisk in the vanilla essence. It should be a very thin mixture.
7) Strain the mixture back into the pot to catch any egg bits. Divide the mixture evenly between the caramel-coated ramekins.
8) Put the filled ramekins into a deep baking pan, and fill the pan with very hot water until it comes 2/3 the way up the sides of the ramekins. Put the pan into the lower third of the oven, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a knife inserted halfway between the centre and the edge of the ramekin comes out clean (it should still be wobbly and underdone in the very centre as it continues to cook once it comes out of the oven.)
9) Once the ramekins are cool enough to handle, refrigerate the ramekins for a few hours or overnight.
10) To serve, run the bottom of the ramekin under hot water (or sit it in a pan of hot water) for a couple of minutes. Run a knife around the top edge of the ramekins to loosen. Put the plate or bowl you want to serve it on over the top of the ramekin, and quickly turn it upside down. If the flan doesn't pop loose immediately, you might have to give it a couple of hard taps on the bottom of the ramekin. Let the ramekin sit for a minute so that all the sauce comes out, then remove the ramekin and serve immediately. Enjoy! :)