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This delicious make-ahead dessert is perfect for entertaining. I learned the recipe from my pal Sandy Gluck when I was her sous chef at the Café New Amsterdam in New York’s West Village in the early eighties. We’d met in 1977, both of us fresh out of cooking school, both of us winners of a scholarship from Les Dames D’Escoffier, a national association dedicated to the advancement of women in the field. The scholarship was supposed to send us on a gastronomic cruise to Italy. The plans changed, and we ended up on the maiden voyage of a jazz cruise to Cuba that featured much better music than food. We sailed with Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Earl ‘Fatha” Hines and their bands and attended a great jazz concert in Havana. Sandy and I became fast friends on board that ship. I spent the next four years working in restaurants in Boston, and when I returned to New York in 1981, jobless, Sandy took me in. The Café New Amsterdam was a small restaurant on West Fourth Street where Sandy, as chef, was making beautiful food based on fresh local ingredients. Her citrus flan was one of my favorite desserts.
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Pinch table saltRemove the rinds from the lemon, lime, and orange and cut away the bitter white pith. (Reserve the flesh for another use.) Combine the rind with 1 tablespoon sugar in a food processor. Process until finely ground, 20 to 30 seconds.
Pour the milk and cream into a large saucepan. Add the ground rind and the vanilla bean. Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook until bubbles form around the edge. Remove the saucepan from the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make a caramel syrup by spreading 1/2 cup 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. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into four 1 cup custard ups or ramekins. Immediately turn to coat the base and sides evenly with the hot caramel. Set aside.
Strain the cream and milk mixture into a large bowl. Discard the rind and scrape the seeds from the vanilla beans into the strained milk and cream (Rinse and dry the scraped beans and reserve for another use).
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 and yolks with the salt in a large bowl until blended. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Stir in the milk and cream. Stir briefly to mix and pour into the caramel-lined cups. 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 come halfway up the sides of the pan. Bake until the custard is just set in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours or overnight. Just before serving, run a knife around the edge of the custard and unmold onto individual plates. The caramel will have made a sauce for the flan.
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