For Christmas this year, I got The Swede the book Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. I told him very solemnly not to be alarmed by the pink and white striped cover (not that he would be), and also that there was a second part to this gift: each month he could pick one recipe from the book and I would make it for him. Two in February, since that is his birthday month.
If you know The Swede at all, you know that this was pretty much a hit of a gift. If you don’t know The Swede, then just know this: to say he has a rather large sweet tooth is like saying the Taj Mahal is a nice-sized house.
So yeah, it was a pretty awesome gift, if I do say so myself. .
For his first choice, The Swede quickly picked out a coconut milk-cream cheese flan that involved seven eggs, two packages of cream cheese, both coconut milk and cream of coconut, along with some sugar for a drippy, sticky, caramelized top, and a few other sundry ingredients like vanilla and lemon juice. He worried that this might be too difficult for me to make, and asked if I wanted him to pick something else.
No, no, I assured him, the recipe looked plenty easy, didn’t seem to require any special utensils, and besides, I do always love a challenge in the kitchen. And this flan? This flan would be a challenge, if for no other reason than I’d never made flan before.
So on a Sunday night I hauled out the orange mixer, my trusty glass of red wine by my side, and set to work on the flan.
*Note: I did not have my camera with me, so no, you won’t get pretty pictures to go along with this post, save for one sorry camera photo at the end (Spoiler Alert!). Sorry. Except not, because I’m pretty sure my food photography skills to shoot an entirely cream-colored flan in low lighting would not have worked out in my favor. In fact, I know they would not have. What can I say? I have some things to learn, and lighting still plagues me.
ANYWAY, all seemed to be going well, even when I threw the ingredients in the mixing bowl and set the thing on high, and the batter slapped so fast against the side of the bowl I thought I would soon be cleaning raw flung flan off the ceiling. I was a little wary of the batter, however, because whenever I stopped the mixer, little bits of cream cheese floated to the top. And no matter how much I whipped the shit out of the batter, those tiny chunks were still there.
No matter, I thought, realizing that the next step in the process was to press the batter through a fine-mesh strainer. Except it did matter because A) I did not have a fine-mesh strainer, and 2) I tried (unsuccessfully) to use cheesecloth instead.
Have you ever tried to strain something through cheesecloth? It works beautifully at first.
Until all the g-d cream cheese chunks get stuck, and you try to push them through the cloth, too, only to realize that instead of pushing them through you now have a wad of egg- and coconut-milk battered cream cheese wrapped up in sticky, wet cheesecloth.
So what do you do? You say fuck it and pull the chunk of cheese out of the cloth, throw it in with the rest of the strained flan batter, mash up the wad into tiny chunks again and call it a day.
Until you realize that you don’t have a roasting pan in which to put the cake pan full of raw flan, because it needs to cook in a water bath.
Thankfully, 2011 is apparently turning out to be The Year of Improvisation (along with being the year of Put Up or Shut Up), and I grabbed another pan that was both oven-safe and big enough to hold a 9-inch cake pan, threw in some water (NOT boiling water as the directions instructed), and put the lot in the oven.
It took about an hour to bake, to get to the non-jiggly, set-in-the-middle stage the recipe called for. Only a few small bits of the cream cheese chunks had not dissipated from the top into the rest of the flan. I was nervous about turning it out of the pan, because Hey! GUESS WHAT?
You’re supposed to wait until it’s completely cool to invert it.
Whoops. Didn’t quite read that part of the recipe, either.
New goal for 2011: Read recipes thoroughly before starting them. And you know what? Read them through a second time for good measure. Take notes if need be. In fact, write a book report on all recipes before making them SO I DON’T GLOSS OVER IMPORTANT SHIT LIKE THIS.
So yeah, not going to wait for the flan to be completely cooled. I did, wait, however, for it to be relatively cooled, so I could at least wrap my hands around the pan to invert it. This was the real reason I didn’t want to wait until it was cooled, what with my last disastrous episode of a caramel-topped dessert. I feared another stuck-to-the-pan mess, ruining the first edition of The Swede’s gift.
Turns out I needn’t have worried. I slid a dinner plate over the top, which just barely edged out the circumference of the pan, and carefully turned the pan over. The flan slipped out of the pan smoothly, and easily…
…and right off the goddamned plate.
The Swede, thankfully, did not let the broken look of the flan deter him from eating it.
And he declared it delicious.
I tried it myself, and had to agree.
Broken flan still equates to tasty flan, it turns out.
Though next month I promise I’ll read the recipe directions in full.
And maybe get a bigger serving plate.