When Cecily and I were in Spain this summer, we took a break now and then from our quest to see every single ninth- and tenth-century church in the Asturias to have a spectacular meal. I can’t bring you any of the artisanal cheeses we tried, or the besugo the waiter brought from the fish shop across the way on the coast in Cudillero, but I can offer this transcendentally wonderful dessert we had in Arenas de Cabrales after a dinner that started with half a side of cow covered in the eponymous cabrales cheese, and sidra natural all over the floor. It is sort of a cross between regular flan and cheesecake, neither of which I like very much but somehow the alchemical reaction that occurs when you mix them is greater than either alone.
Flan de Queso
For the custard:
- 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk
- 1 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
- 5 large eggs
- 8 oz softened cream cheese
- 1 teaspoon very good vanilla
- 1 tablespoon brandy
For the caramel:
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 tablespoons water
Put a bain marie in your oven (I use a rectangular cake pan filled with enough water to go about half way up the side of the dish I cook the flan in). Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
The caramel is the fiddly bit, so let’s begin there. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and stir to dissolve. Now turn the pan onto medium heat and let the sugar cook without touching it until it turns golden brown. Sounds easy, eh? Problem is, when the sugar is cooking it bubbles and foams so much, you can’t tell what colour it is until it is too late and you have a nasty, burning mass of blackened sugar on your hands. I mostly use smell to tell it is done. When it starts to smell like caramel, I stick the end of a wooden spoon nto it and see what I have. You might also try cooking it in a pyrex saucepan if you have one.
When the caramel is perfect, working quickly, pour it into your flan mold. I use a souffle dish. Tip the mold around to coat the bottom and sides. It will harden quickly. Then relax. The hard part is done.
Mix all the other ingredients together until smooth. If you do it in your food processor, you’ll get runny goo overflowing through the holes (I learned this the hard way). If you don’t mix it well enough, its components may separate in the oven. I suggest a blender or a hand mixer. Pour it all into your prepared flan mold and cook it in the bain marie for about an hour. It is done when it has set but is still a tiny bit wobbly. A skewer will come out clean.
After it has cooled, you can unmold it. Run your skewer all the way around the rim and put a large serving dish over your flan dish (I use a pie plate since I am greedy and don’t want to lose a drop of caramel). Flip it over until the flan falls down onto the serving dish. You can cool it a bit more before serving.