I didn't have an especially sophisticated palate as a kid, but I really had a thing for flan. My second cousin, who really knows her way around the kitchen, made it for many family dinners and I became quickly hooked. She also whipped up gorgeous layered trifles, and meticulously iced layer cakes, and pies of all kinds, but the sight of that large, flan-filled glass baking dish chilling in her refrigerator always made me deliriously happy. It was so good: luscious, eggy custard with a perfectly caramelized sauce underneath that she would scoop up and pour over each serving. I miss her just thinking about it.
Over the years, I forgot about flan. Our family grew apart for reasons I still don't understand, bringing an end to those big family dinners. But when I was looking for a dessert to make for last weekend's fajita night, it seemed like a recipe worth resurrecting.
And ooh, I'm so glad I did. It was the best part of the meal by far. A bit of rum and toasted coconut give this recipe a little more tropical flavor than my cousin's classic version. Served straight from the fridge, the custard is delightfully silky and cool--the perfect thing to bring to a summer barbecue or enjoy as the weather heats up. Even people who were heading downstairs to catch a car home took the time to lick their plates. Always the sign of a good dessert in my book.
The original recipe, from Gourmet, calls for coconut in the flan, which turned me off. I didn't want to interrupt the clean, smoothness of the custard with chewy bits. I still wanted that tropical flavor, so I toasted the coconut and added it as a topping--which also helps hide any cracks or imperfections in the custard.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons dark rum (I used light rum and it was fine)
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
Equipment: 12 (4-ounce) ramekins (or one 9-inch baking dish)
To make the caramel sauce, bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Immediately pour into ramekins or a baking dish and swirl so caramel coats bottom of each, then put ramekins in a large roasting pan.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Blend 2 cups milk with all of the flan ingredients except for the coconut in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (You can also do this by hand in a large bowl.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, then divide among ramekins or pour into a baking dish. Bake flan in a water bath until just set but still wobbly in center, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. As the flan cooks, toast the coconut in a small pan on low heat. remove and set aside. When the flan is done, remove the ramekins or baking dish from the water bath and let it cool, at least 15 minutes. The flan will continue to set as it cools. Just before serving, run a thin knife around each flan, then invert onto plates. (I cut the custard into squares and served it straight from the pan, like my cousin did.) Top with the shredded coconut and don't forget to add some extra sauce.