Cathie Campbell

Caramel custard has its own day

While browsing the list of national food days, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Oct. 3 is National Caramel Custard Day. (The title actually said carmel, but I always get corrected when I say ‘carmel’ so now I say ‘caramel.’) Anyway, caramel custard, including flan, is one of my very favorite desserts. The richer the better. The best I ever had was in Brazil, where Bahian women in the island of Morro de São Paulo sold sweet treats at market stalls. Oh, and a co-worker once brought in some flan that was just as good. I also remember a very delicious candy sold on the island, made from coconut. If you like caramel custard as much as I do, here are some recipes that might inspire you to make some - or, you may already have a favorite recipe of your own.

Caramel custard

1 1/2 cups sugar, divided

6 eggs

3 cups milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large heavy saucepan over low heat, cook and stir 3/4 cup of the sugar until it melts and turns a golden color.

2. pour mixture evenly into 8 custard cups, tilting cups to coat the bottom; let stand about 10 minutes.

3. In a large bowl, beat eggs, milk, vanilla and remaining sugar until well mixed but not foamy. Pour over the caramel in each cup.

4. Place the custard cups in two 8-inch square baking pans, then fill the pan with enough water to measure a depth of 1 inch. Bake the custard in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the middle comes out clean. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks.

5. To unmold, run a knife around the cup rims and invert onto dessert plates. Makes 8 servings.

Mexican flan

1/2 cup sugar

6 eggs

3 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon orange rind, finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 325. In a heavy skillet or saucepan, heat 1/2 cup sugar, stirring constantly until it melts and turns a dark golden color. Remove from hear and pour into a metal, 4 1/2-cup ring mold, swirling it around so it evenly coats the bottom.

2. In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in milk, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla and orange peel.

3. Place the ring mold in another pan and place on an oven rack. Pour the egg and milk mixture into the ring mold, then pour very hot water in the outside pan to a depth of 1 inch.

4. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, then refrigerate for a minimum of 3 1/2 hours. To unmold, run a knife or spatula around the edges, getting down to the bottom. Place the serving platter over the top of the mold then quickly invert, allowing the flan to transfer to the platter. If any caramel remains in the pan, drizzle it over the top of the flan. Makes 10 servings.

Creamy caramel flan

Sort of like a cross between custard and cheesecake. A firmer texture than most flans.

3/4 cup sugar

1 package (8-oz.) cream cheese, softened

5 eggs

1 can (14-oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1 can (12-fluid oz.) evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a small, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, cook sugar, stirring constantly, until it melts and turns a golden color. Pour into a 10-inch round baking dish, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until all ingredients are well blended. Beat in condensed and evaporated milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour into caramel coated pan. Line a roasting pan with a damp kitchen towel. Place baking dish on towel, inside roasting pan, and place roasting pan on oven rack. Fill roasting pan with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the baking dish.

3. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center is just set. Remove to a wire rack and allow to cool for one hour, then refrigerate 8 hours or overnight. To unmold, run a knife around edges of pan and invert on a rimmed serving platter. Makes 10 servings.

Rich caramel custard

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

6 tablespoons sugar

For the caramel:

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon butter

1. Preheat oven to 325. For the caramel, place the 1/2 cup sugar and butter in a medium, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Gently toss the skillet in order to evenly distribute the sugar. When the sugar starts to melt, stir or swirl mixture until it is all melted and a nice golden brown. Don't allow sugar to boil or turn a dark rust color. Acting quickly, pour the caramel into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish or spoon it into custard cups and swirl the dish(es) to evenly coat the bottom of the dish.

2. Set aside to allow the caramel to set fully in the baking dish for about 2 to 5 minutes before pouring the custard mix into the dish.

3. In a large bowl, combine the eggs and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. (Don't whisk too much or you might get too many air bubbles, which can affect the smooth texture of the flan.) Add the milk, cream and vanilla and mix well. It is optional, but at this point you can strain the mixture for an especially smooth texture.

4. Pour the custard mixture over the caramel in the dish(es). Place the baking dish or custard cups in a large pan and place in preheated oven. Add very hot water to the pan so it reaches halfway up the custard dishes. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until the flan is set. Larger dishes take longer, even more than 60 to 65 minutes, so check every 5 minutes after 40 minutes have gone by. Note: Check by gently tapping the dish to see if the entire flan jiggles or only the center jiggles. But the flan should not be wet at all. On the other hand, if it does not jiggle at all and is fully set then it has been overcooked and will have too many bubble-spots on the outside layer.

5. Remove from oven, let the flan cool down, then cover with cling wrap or foil and refrigerate for at least 2 to 3 hours or overnight. To serve, run a knife along the edges of the dish to loosen the custard. Cover the pan with a serving dish and flip over. If you need to, gently tap the sides and bottom of the pan to make sure the custard has come out. If using one baking dish, slice into sections and drizzle some caramel sauce over each serving. Makes 8 servings.