There is a distinct citrusy lightness to this flan yet it loses none of that creamy mouthfeel that can only come from a baked custard.To offset the creaminess, I have infused the flan with the flavours of lime, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. This combination is not only interesting, it also helps to temper the richness of an otherwise conventionally heavy tasting flan. Remember to drizzle freshly squeezed lime juice over the flan before serving. This final dressing of lime juice turns the pool of caramel sauce refreshingly zesty. This flan is great party food as it feeds many.

Why is this flan Mexican inspired? I recall watching, many years ago, an episode of Planet Food on the Food Channel. A younger and more chiselled looking Tyler Florence, a celebrity chef, was somewhere in Mexico. A Mexican family had invited him to their home to show him how they prepared their flan. At that time, I had only made flans with fresh milk flavoured with vanilla. When the Mexican lady took out her cans of condensed milk and some limes, I was intrigued. I was even more won over when Tyler Florence ‘oohed’ and ‘ahed’ over her flan as he shovelled it in his mouth.This is my version of the flan I saw on TV. Totally fattening and worth the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

Mexican Inspired Lime & Lemongrass Infused Caramel Flan

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Inactive: Overnight chilling
Level: Moderate
Makes: Makes a 9″ X 1 .5″ (23cm X 3.81cm) round flan. Serves ~12.
Oven Temperature: 320F (160C)
Can recipe be doubled? Yes, if you have a large enough oven.
Make ahead? Keeps well refrigerated up to 3 days.

Ingredients

Measuring cup: 1 cup=250ml
The flan

(~2 and 1/4 cups) (680g)(24oz) condensed milk
(~3 and 1/4 cups+ 2 Tablespoons)(840g)(30oz) fresh milk
1 vanilla pod OR use 2 teaspoons vanilla extract*
2 to 3 teaspoons lime zest (~3 large limes)
2 large kaffir lime leaves**
1 lemongrass
1 and 1/2 cups eggs (6 to 7 eggs)
To make the caramel
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons water
To drizzle over flan before serving
1/3 to 1/4 cup of lime juice.
* If you are using a vanilla pod, split the pod lengthwise almost in 2. Scrape seeds off with a knife and add both scraped seeds and pod directly into the condensed and fresh milk.
** For reference, refer to my the picture above. It is easily available locally. It should be in the vegetable chiller, right besides the chillies, lemongrass and other local herbs. It should also be easily available at most Asian grocery stores. 

Method

Items required for baking

(1) 9″ X 2″ (23cm X 5cm) round cake pan (not a springform/lose bottom pan).
(2) The cake pan will be sitting in a water bath (bain marie). Therefore, you need a baking pan that is wider and of the same or greater depth than the cake pan to create this water bath. I use my roasting pan. Refer to image below.
(3) A kettle of hot water.

The flan
1. Turn on the oven to 320F (160C), oven rack adjusted to lower middle position.
2. Into a preferably nonstick pot, add the condensed milk and fresh milk and turn on the burner to medium-heat to heat up the milk. If you are using vanilla pod, add the scraped off vanilla seeds and the emptied pod into the pot as well.
3. Do not bring it to a boil. Instead, once you see tiny bubbles around the circumference of the milk surface, add the lime zest and turn down the burner to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir occasionally to avoid milk from sticking to bottom of the pot.
4. After the 10 minutes, add the kaffir lime leaves (pull off the hard centre vein first) and lemongrass (smash it roughly before adding).Only devein the leaves and smash the lemongrass just before using so that you lose none of the volatile oils.
5. Simmer 5 minutes. Turn off the burner. Remove the pot from the burner and strain the milk into a jug for easier pouring. Set the empty pot aside as you will be reusing it.
6. You must strain the milk or the kaffir lime leaves will start to cook and that will impart a bitter flavour to your milk. The flavour of lemongrass can also get too overpowering if you let it seep too long in the milk.
7. In a bowl, crack and beat up the eggs. Measure out 1 and 1/2 cups eggs as that’s all you need. Set this aside.
8. Pour in about 1/2 of the strained milk back into the pot you had used to heat through milk.
9. With a whisk, gently whisk as you pour the beaten eggs into it. Now, pour in the rest of the milk, gently whisking as you do so. Do not work up too many bubbles as you whisk.
10. Strain this liquid custard back into the jug for easier pouring. This final straining ensures you have a lump free mixture ready for baking.
11. If you did not use a vanilla pod, stir in the vanilla extract now. Set aside while you make the caramel.

To make the caramel
1. Place a sauce pan on the burner, add the sugar and cover it with the water. Turn the burner on to medium-high heat. Do not stir at any point as you risk sugar crystals forming and you would have to start over with a new batch.
2. After 2 minutes, the sugar should start to dissolve. When most of the sugar has dissolved, shake the sauce pan quickly and gently to help the rest of the sugar to dissolve. Do not move away from the stove. Sugar burns quickly.
3. Within 5 minutes or less, you should notice the syrup bubbling furiously and nosily and then it will progress to a quiet bubble.

4. Thereafter, the syrup will start to change from a clear syrup to pale yellow, gold, amber …

and dark amber.

Time to remove from the burner.

5. Beyond that the caramel will burn and be unusable. The change in colour happens rapidly.
6. As soon as the caramel starts turning amber, watch carefully. Within seconds, when it turns a darker shade of amber, remove saucepan quickly. It will burn if you don’t.
7. Pour the caramel immediately into the cake pan. Work quickly as caramel will harden sooner than you think. Swirl the caramel to coat the base and up the sides of the pan ~1/4′ (0.6cm).  If caramel does harden before you can complete coating the cake pan, place cake pan in the heated oven briefly to soften the caramel.
8. Pour the custard mixture into the cake pan and set that into the baking tray.

Putting it in the oven to bake
1. Have your kettle of hot water ready.
2. Put the roasting tray and cake pan( which is now sitting in the roasting tray) in the oven.
3. Take your kettle of hot water to the oven and pour the hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches half way up the sides of the cake pan.
4. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the flan comes out clean. If you shake the cake pan, the flan will wobble like Jell-O.
5. Remove the cake pan from the roasting tray and cool on a cooling rack.
6. Cool completely and refrigerate overnight.
7. If you are in a hurry to put the cake pan in the refrigerator, immerse the cake pan in an ice bath to cool and then refrigerate.

To serve
1. Dip the cake pan quickly in a bath of hot water, ~ 20 – 30 seconds depending on what material your cake pan is made of. I find that when I use this hot water bath method, it almost always means that the flan will slide right out without the need for me to use a knife to loosen.
2. If you are still unsure, run a sharp knife between the cake pan and the flan. To ensure you do not accidentally slice into the flan, press the knife blade against the sides of the cake pan as you run the knife around the circumference.
3. Choose a serving vessel with a slight lip to hold in the caramel syrup. Rinse it. Do not dry it off as the dampness will allow you to centre the caramel after unmoulding.
4. Invert serving vessel over the cake pan. Sandwich cake pan and serving vessel firmly. Quickly flip the cake pan onto the serving vessel. Centre the cake pan on the serving vessel. Shake the cake pan gently to ease it out. You will hear a satisfying ‘plop’ as the flan slides down and out of the cake pan.
5. When you are ready to serve the flan, pour the lime juice evenly over the flan and the caramel sauce. You might want to taste the caramel sauce as you pour the lime juice to decide how much of the lime juice you would like on it. I like a lot of lime juice. Eat sparingly.

Tips

Baking it in 1/3 – 1/2 cup size ramekins (serves ~12)
Baking it in ramekins does mean more work. You also need an oven large enough to hold 12 ramekins sitting in a hot water bath (bain marie). Two things to adjust: (1) Make more caramel: 3/4 cup sugar with 4 and 1/2 Tablespoons sugar(2) Cooking time ~35 – 40 minutes but do check on it earlier.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

Can you not see how moist this cake is? I love this super moist Date and Orange Cake! Even better, it’s a fairly easy cake to bake.


 
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