I first tasted flan more than a dozen years ago. At the time, I was under the weather and my Cuban friend brought over her version of chicken noodle soup: a cure-all meal of red beans and rice, with flan for dessert. Everything was so expertly prepared and delicious, but the dessert was something I couldn’t stop eating. It was more than delicious. It was the best silky-smooth custard I’d ever had – not to mention it was swimming in caramel sauce. I literally licked the plate clean.
Since then, I’ve learned to make this Latin dessert in my own kitchen. It’s not as difficult to master as you might think, but making the caramel does require your undivided attention — if you’ve ever caramelized sugar before, then you know it can go from glossy amber to a charred mess in mere seconds. Also, hot caramel is sticky and extra care should be taken to avoid burns.
This coffee version is one of the best variations of flan I’ve tried. Espresso powder is great for adding obvious coffee flavor to confections, and that’s what I’ve used in this recipe. If you don’t have any on hand, then freeze-dried coffee is a suitable substitute. If you’re all out of freeze-dried coffee, then you may replace 1/2 cup of the milk with 1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee. The coffee flavor is milder, but still so delicious.
Coffee flan is delightful when prepared in coffee cups, but avoid using your best china. The cups bake in the oven for close to an hour, so choose sturdy ceramic coffee cups for this recipe (I used vintage Heath Ceramics mugs from Houseworking). After the flan is baked, you may turn it out of the coffee cup onto a plate, or not; simply dig in – and down to the caramel – with a spoon.
Yield: Four 6-ounce servings
Step 1: Make the Caramel
You will need:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Put the sugar in a heavy-bottomed skillet and place over medium-high heat. Cook the sugar, stirring infrequently, until it is completely melted and amber in color (about 10 minutes).
Place the coffee cups in a large baking dish or roasting pan; carefully spoon the caramel into each of the 6-ounce coffee cups.
Step 2: Make the Custard
You will need:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons espresso powder (found online or at grocery stores specializing in Italian cuisine)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 coffee beans
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the milk and cream in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until steaming (not boiling).
Remove from the heat and transfer the cream to a bowl. While the mixture is still hot, stir in the espresso powder or freeze-dried coffee. If using freshly brewed coffee instead, add it in at this point. Let the mixture cool slightly, about 5 minutes or until it stops steaming.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla extract, eggs and sugar. Pour the egg mixture in a thin stream into the cream mixture while whisking constantly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared coffee cups. Place the baking pan with the cups resting inside into the preheated oven. Pour hot water into the pan until it reaches 3/4 of the way up the sides of the cups. You may choose to heat water on the stovetop for this, but I use hot tap water and fill a water pitcher for easy pouring.
Bake the flan for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the centers of the custard are set. Carefully remove the pan from the oven (it’s easy to slosh out hot water, so do this slowly) and allow the pan to cool until the coffee cups are cool enough to remove, about 20 minutes. Place the cups in the refrigerator to chill for about 2 hours.
Step 3: Serve and Enjoy
Serve the cups as-is with a coffee bean garnish on top, or run a knife around the top edge of the custards and turn them out onto a plate.
Refrigerate uneaten flan.