Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Vanilla Bean Leche Flan with Creamy Hot Cocoa

Lately most of my cooking has been confined not only to late hours, but also to what ingredients I find in the kitchen at the end of the day. So with the remaining eggs I had in my refrigerator I made a Vanilla Bean Leche Flan. Leche Flan is basically a Filipino version of a crème caramel, usually made with condensed and/or evaporated milk, lined with caramelised sugar and baked in a bain marie (water bath). I used unhomogenised full cream milk as that I prefer the consistency of using fresh milk as opposed to condensed or evaporated milk. Using the latter creates a denser and heavier custard, so using only milk, sugar and eggs creates a soft creamier consistency much like that of panna cotta. Some prefer to use duck eggs or pasturised carabao’s (buffalo) milk instead of the conventional kind. Duck eggs apparently impart a richer golden colour to the flan however I didn’t have six duck eggs sitting in my fridge at the time.

Instead of using vanilla extract I used a vanilla bean. I like the look of the seeds at the top of the flan when they settle to the bottom of the moulds while baking. I also like being able to see the flavour as you're eating it. Aside from aesthetics using a vanilla bean intesified the sweetness, so beware all diabetics and those who don't have a sweet tooth, there may be sideffects. Luckily I quite enjoy sugar in sizable doses and don't mind a sugar induced high.

Vanilla Bean Leche Flan

NOTE: You will need 6 (tin) moulds and metal tongs


6 eggs yolks
¾ cup caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup full cream milk
1 tsp lemon zest
additional sugar for caramelizing approximately 5-6 tbsp.

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Fill and large baking pan with water, enough so that when moulds are placed inside it reaches a third of the way up. Place this pan in the oven.

Line each of the moulds with sugar, you don’t need to be exact for this, just enough to coat the bottom when it caramelises. Using the metal tongs, hover the tin over an open flame on a stove until the sugar caramelises. Be careful not to burn the sugar, you are looking at getting the caramel to a deep brown colour but not burnt. You will smell it if it gets burnt. Do this for all 6 tins and set aside.

In a mixing bowl place egg yolks and sugar and beat until all the sugar dissolves. Cut the vanilla bean lengthways splitting it in half. Scrape all the seeds and place into bowl. Mix until all the beans are distributed. Add the milk and whisk until incorporated. Now it is important not to beat too vigorously as not to create air bubbles in the custard mixture. Add lemon zest.

Using a strainer, pour the mixture evenly between the moulds filling them 3/4 of the way up. Place the moulds in the bain marie and bake for at least an hour. Check leche flan using a toothpick, if it comes away clean then they are done. Usually a thin skin develops on the top. (pictured below).

Rest at room temperature for 40 minutes then chill for at least 1 hour. To release flan from the moulds run a knife along the perimeter of the custard turn onto a plate and tap the base a few times, the flan should come away easily. Serve with a cup of creamy hot cocoa.

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