Flan – A Brief History
What is flan and from whence did it come? First, flan is one of the most wonderful desserts in the world – both creamy and custardy at the same time! Many people believe flan originated in Spain but actually recipes for flan existed 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire. The Romans were the first to domesticate chickens and needed ways to use all those eggs. Flan means “flat cake” in Latin – just thought you’d like to know. The Roman Empire covered a great deal of territory so many countries and cultures have their version of a custardly confection similar to flan.
The Spanish added caramel to their version of congealed custard and called it flan. The Spaniards brought flan to Mexico where the Mexicans loved flan and made it in coffee, chocolate and coconut flavors as well as the traditional recipe. Central and Latin Americans love flan as well. I first ate flan when I lived in Puerto Rico and I thought it was so delicious!
Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan
I first made Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan about 10 years ago and since then it has become one of my favorite fall and holiday desserts, so flavorful with its creamy texture and cinnamon spice. It is definitely a “company worthy” recipe.
The 3 Keys to Success
Key #1 – Choose an appropriate baking dish for the flan that will fit into a roasting pan or other large pan. For the flan, a pan measuring 8″ x 8″ x 2″ is needed, round or square in shape. (You may wish to check the fit of the pans prior to pouring the flan into its pan.) A water bath is needed to bake the flan, which is achieved by placing the smaller pan into the larger pan and pouring very hot water into the large pan, surrounding the smaller pan with the water coming up halfway up the sides of the smaller pan. In the photo below, the larger pan measures 9″ x 13″ x 2.”
Key #2 – Prepare the caramel with close observation and care. Some people shy away from making flan just because they aren’t sure about the process of caramelizing sugar. For Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan, 1/2 cup of sugar is heated over low heat in a frying pan or sauce pan until the sugar forms a golden syrup. This step requires close scrutiny – no checking e-mails or text messages while the sugar is melting! It helps to shake the pan slightly or swirl the sugar around in the pan during this process to prevent burning. This step just takes time and the sugar is not going to morph into syrup until it is ready. (It’s like water never boils when you’re watching it. ?
Finally the sugar turns that beautiful golden color and has changed into a liquid. It should be clear amber without any sugar crystal left when poured into the 8″ x 8″ x 2″ pan in which the flan will be baked. (There are still sugar crystals in the above photo.)
Be very careful when pouring the caramel as it will burn if it makes contact with your skin. (I know, I have done this!) The caramel hardens quickly in the bottom of the pan. Set it aside while you mix the custard.
The custard portion of the flan can be mixed by hand, no mixer needed. Whisk together 1 cup pureed pumpkin, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 5 large eggs, 1 1/2 cups undiluted evaporated milk (same a 1 12-oz. can), 1/3 cup water, and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Whisk it until it is well-blended, then pour the flan mixture into the pan containing the caramel.
Set the pan of flan into the larger pan that you selected for the water bath. Fill the pan with very hot water until it comes about halfway up the sides of the flan pan. (If you find this too heavy to move to the oven, an alternate way is to place the pans on the oven rack and then pour the very hot water into the pan.) Carefully place the pans into the center of a 350 degree F. oven.
Bake for 75 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center of the filling comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator to chill for several hours or overnight.
For the whipped cream: Combine 1/2 cup heavy cream with 1 tablespoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger and whip until soft peaks are formed.
Key #3 – To serve the flan, run a spatula around the edge of the flan to loosen it from the pan. Turn flan out onto a serving platter. If it resists coming out of the pan, try shaking it gently. Cut into squares or wedges. Add a dollop of whipped cream on top and sprinkle with cinnamon.
- 1/2 cup sugar (for caramel)
- 3/4 cup sugar (for custard)
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup pureed cooked pumpkin
- 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cup undiluted evaporated milk (same as 1 12 fl. oz. can)
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For whipped cream: 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- Melt 1/2 cup sugar over low heat until the sugar forms a golden syrup, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
- Pour immediately into a shallow pan (8" x 8" x 2") or a 9" pie plate, turning and rolling pan from side to side to coat with caramel. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Combine 3/4 cup sugar with cinnamon; add pumpkin and eggs. Mix well.
- Stir in evaporated milk, water and vanilla. Mix well and turn into caramel-coated pan.
- Set in a pan of hot water.
- Bake for 1 1/4 hours (75 minutes), or until a knife inserted into the center of the filling comes out clean. Cool and chill.
- To serve, run a spatula around the flan and turn flan out onto a serving plate. Cut into squares or wedges.
- Whip the whipping cream until soft peaks form; stir in sugar and ginger. Add a dollop of whipped cream to the flan serving and dust with cinnamon.
- This is a great dessert for any gathering - definitely "company worthy."
Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan makes a great dessert for Thanksgiving Dinner. This wonderful flan is easy-to-chew so those with oral or dental problems should be able to enjoy it readily. Flavor intensifiers in this recipe are vanilla extract, cinnamon and ginger.
Whip up this dessert for your family and friends soon – they’ll be impressed! It will be a cinch if you utilize the 3 Keys for Perfect Cinnamon Pumpkin Flan!
Watch for my coming post on Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving Dinner.
Remember to Savor the Flavor!
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