One of our favorite neighborhood restaurants is La Taza de Oro, a great little Puerto Rican spot on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. The menu always features five or six entrees, accompanied by your choice of yellow or white rice and several different kinds of beans. (When Ruthie was three and four years old, she was such a nut for La Taza’s black beans that the counter guy there dubbed her Black ‘Bean and set her up with a little dish of them as soon as we entered the restaurant.) The portions are ample, the service is friendly, the prices are modest, and the food is soulful, all the way down to the café con leche.
For years we had takeout La Taza for dinner on Friday nights. Our big sinful treat was dessert: café con leche and flan. The texture of the flan was so creamy that I had to find out the secret. It turned out to be the same ingredient that makes their café con leche so special, evaporated milk.
This pumpkin flan is the ultimate comfort dessert. The ginger whipped cream dresses it up, but it’s real good all by itself.
Make a caramel syrup by spreading half of the sugar in the bottom of a heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar starts to melt, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir gently so that the sugar melts evenly. Cook, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the sugar turns dark, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir gently so that the sugar melts evenly. Cook, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the sugar turns dark, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into six 1-cup custard cups or ramekins. Immediately turn to coat the base and sides evenly with the hot caramel. Set aside.
Combine the milk and evaporated milk in a small saucepan. Warm over medium-high heat until bubbles appear around the edges. Add the cinnamon sticks and cover. Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a baking pan large enough to hold the ramekins snugly with a clean kitchen towel and bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. (The towel will prevent the ramekins from hitting the pan as they bake.)
Beat the eggs with the remaining sugar and the salt in a large bowl until light and lemon colored. Beat in the pumpkin, rum, ginger, and nutmeg. Pour the milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl and discard the cinnamon. Stir the mixture until smooth and ladle equal amounts into the ramekins.
Arrange the filled ramekins on the towel in the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and carefully pour in enough of the boiling water to reach about halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool on wire racks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until very well chilled, at least 6 hours.
To unmold, run a knife around the flan to loosen. Hold a dessert plate or individual serving bowl with a flat bottom over the ramekin and invert quickly. Caramel will pour out and surround the flan.
Whip the cream with an electric mixer until it forms soft peaks. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and whip until it holds soft peaks. Serve the flans with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of crystallized ginger.
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