The Best Flan in the World
I am a busy woman, but I will always make time for the best flan in the world.
Like so many of you I juggle family, work, staying healthy, time with friends, and whatever my latest Netflix or Amazon addiction happens to be. Yet, I always find time for baking (especially this flan). I suppose when we really love doing something we make it fit, no matter what.
From my Easy-Bake oven in second grade to baking in restaurants for spending money through college, it has been a constant in my life. My Puerto Rican grandmother was the first to share a love of cooking and baking with me. Her specialty was flan—so exotic growing up in the 1960s in Jackson Heights, but I loved it. This flan is like no other as it has this wonderful crunchy layer on the bottom, the creamy flan on top and then that caramel sauce.
I would sit in her tiny kitchen in Queens and watch the magic happen. She would hold her special pan (the one in the photo below – one of the only possessions of hers I took when she passed away) over the gas flame making the caramel and I would watch, flinching each time I thought she was about to burn a finger. And each time she would unmold the flan there would be that moment of worry: Will it come out properly? Will it break? Nope. Each time, it was perfect—that crunchy layer from the almonds and oozing with caramel sauce, sweet and rich. Oh, it’s that good people.
Grandma Milagros’s Flan
Preheat over to 400 degrees.
1/4 pound blanched almonds
7 unsalted soda crackers (or unsalted saltines)
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2 Tbs. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
Make Caramel Sauce:
In 6″ metal cake mold place 1 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water. Stir to fully dissolve sugar. Place over med-high flame until sugar is fully dissolved and bubbling. Then let it cook about 10 minutes until it turns a golden color. Brush down sugar crystals with a wet brush if needed. Once a deep golden color, slowly and carefully swirl caramel over bottom and sides of mold (use oven gloves!). Do this for several minutes. The caramel will thicken and coat the pan nicely (be patient). Here’s a good video of how to make the caramel if you need a visual. Set aside.
1. Grind almonds and crackers in a food processor until super fine.
2. Place ground almonds and crackers in a bowl and add eggs. Mix well.
3. Add melted butter, salt, sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. Put mold into a pan (I use a 9″ Pyrex).
5. Pour mixture into mold (I fill it to the very top).
6. Place baking pan into oven and pour boiling water into pan.
Bake for 1 hour. Start checking at 50 minutes. It should be deep brown on top and still a little jiggly.
Cool completely before turning out onto plate. The caramel sauce will drip out so be sure plate is big enough and work fast!
For many of us, baking is a way we show our love during the holidays or on special occasions. My father loved pumpkin pie, my husband and my mom love apple, and my stepmom anything with chocolate. So I compulsively make dessert after dessert for Thanksgiving. Every year Paul says it’s too much and he’s right. But I want to make everyone happy and show them how much I love them. My grandmother made that flan to show me how much she loved me. I felt her love in each step and each bite.
I recently heard a woman say “My family loved me so well.” I love that expression. Baking is my way of showing people that I love them so well.
And for all my efforts, all my fanciness, all the over-the-top baking challenges, how do I best show my son I love him so well? There’s only one thing that will satisfy – chocolate chip cookies. The recipe from the package will do just fine, thank you very much. Though lately he has developed a hankering for these lovelies from Bon Appétit. They’re actually easy since you don’t have to wait for the butter to soften and with or without the extra chopped candy they are fantastic.
I see a lot of overnight care packages in the near future…