Oh who that ever lived and loved
Can look upon an egg unmoved?
The egg it is the source of all,
‘Tis everyone’s ancestral hall.
The bravest chief that ever fought,
The lowest thief that e’er was caught,
The harlot’s lip, the maiden’s leg,
They each all came from an egg.
The rocks that once by ocean’s surge
Beheld the first of eggs emerge —
Obscure, defenseless, small and cold —
They little knew what egg could hold.
The gifts the reverent Magi gave,
Pandora’s box, Aladdin’s cave,
Wars, loves, and kingdoms, heaven and hell
All lay within that tiny shell.
Oh, join me gentlemen, I beg,
In honoring our friend, the egg.
~ Clarence Day, 1874-1935
‘Tis the season for eggs, the Christian symbol of fertility, and I’ve got eggs-actly what you need for Easter dessert.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you flan. (Pronounce it flawn for the Spanish version, flan to rhyme with man, for the English.)
No matter how you say it, it’s totally yum. Believe it or not, flans date back to ancient Rome, when chickens were first domesticated and kept for laying eggs. Borrowing the Greek cooking method of blending eggs with milk/cream/other liquid, the Romans liked their flans savory, using choice ingredients such as eels (eeewww)! But they weren’t totally bonkers. They also made sweet flans flavored with honey.
Flans continued to be popular in Europe during Medieval times, especially during Lent, when meat was forbidden. It eventually branched out into two distinct versions. In Spain it became a sweet custard flavored mostly with caramelized sugar, and in England, where pastry crusts are beloved, flan turned into more of a tart/pie with nuts, fruit, as well as custard filling. Fans of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series might remember the flans made and “scoffed” by several characters in each adventure.
Maybe, like me, you’ve been a lifelong lover of custard. Custard pie, warm or cold, is always a treat. But the entire custard family, including creme brulee, creme caramel, and custard sauces such as creme anglaise, or zabaglione, which is made with sweet wine rather than cream, are just as wonderful. If you feel like drinking your custard, there’s nog. If you want to spread it around or use it as a filler, there’s lemon curd. And if you’re in a refined, delicate mood, try pots de creme.
Now, for Easter, what about a classic creme caramel? It can be made ahead, chilled, and then turned out just before serving. You can bake it in individual custard dishes, a standard pie plate, or any other baking dish with smooth sides. Enjoy!
CLASSIC CREME CARAMEL (FLAN)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Combine the sugar, water and lemon juice in a medium skillet and heat over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Continue cooking, without stirring, until the syrup turns amber. Do not let it get too dark, or it will be bitter; also, keep in mind that once the caramel is removed from the heat, it will continue cooking for a few seconds. Immediately pour the caramel into a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie plate or round shallow baking dish, tilting it so that the caramel evenly coats the bottom. Set aside.
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
Heat the milk, cream and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan until small bubbles appear around the edges; do not boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Set the caramel-coated pie plate or baking dish in a large baking pan. Set a kettle of water on to boil.
Remove the vanilla bean from the milk mixture and scrape the seeds into the milk mixture; discard the pod. Add the sugar, return to the heat and stir over low heat just until the sugar is dissolved.
Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a large bowl until blended. Gradually stir in the warm milk mixture until blended; try to avoid making the mixture foamy. Place a strainer over a large glass measuring cup and strain the milk mixture into it. Let stand for a few minutes to allow any bubbles to subside.
Pour the custard into the pie plate or baking dish. Place the baking pan in the oven and add enough boiling water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the pie plate or baking dish. Bake until a small sharp knife inserted in the center of the custard comes out clean, about 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven and, protecting your hands with oven mitts, lift the pie plate or baking dish from the water. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 12 hours.
To serve, carefully run a knife around the edge of the creme caramel. Place a shallow bowl or deep platter over the top and invert the pie plate or baking dish. The flan will unmold onto the plate and the caramel sauce will surround the flan. Serve cold.
TIPS: 2 tsp pure vanilla extract may be substituted for the vanilla bean.
Be careful of splatters when melting the sugar — the mixture is very hot.
Source: The Good Egg by Marie Simmons (Houghton Mifflin, 2006.)