The major ingredients for Mexico Cooks!' best flan ever--clockwise from the bottom: fresh oranges, cream of coconut, whole milk, real Mexican vanilla, fresh eggs, and sal del mar (sea salt, in the little red hen salt cellar). You'll also need some sugar.
This is a Mexican flanera (flan pan). It's made of aluminum; the lid fastens down with a hinged clamp. If you have one, use it. If you don't, you can use any kind of oven-proof pan that holds about two liters. It need not have a lid. That's San Pascual Baylón, the patron saint of the kitchen, in the background. He can be especially helpful at the moment you turn the chilled flan onto the serving platter.
Start by caramelizing the sugar in a heavy pan. This is an 8" enameled cast iron omelet pan; it's been in the pantry for nearly 20 years and, for this purpose, works better than any other pan in the kitchen. Just dump the sugar into your pan over very low heat; when you see that the sugar begins to melt a bit around the edges, move the pan a little to redistribute the sugar so that it caramelizes as evenly as possible.
When the sugar is fully caramelized, it will look like this photo. Caveat: this process seems to take forever, but you can't hurry it. And no matter how tempted you are, do not stir the sugar! Just move the pan little by little, tipping the uncaramelized sugar into the melted mass.
As soon as all the sugar is caramelized--while it is still boiling hot--pour it into the flanera or whatever pan you are using. Tip and turn the flanera so that the sugar evenly coats the bottom and sides. Be very careful not to burn yourself. Set the flanera aside and complete the recipe.
Mexico Cooks! Flan de Coco y Naranja a la Antigua (Old-Style Coconut and Orange Flan)
Make the flan one day ahead of the time you want to serve it. Once baked, it needs to chill for about 18 hours.
Move the oven rack to its lowest position. Pre-heat the oven to 165-170°C or 325°F.
1 cup granulated sugar
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
3 cups whole milk
1 cup cream of coconut
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange peel
6 additional egg yolks
pinch sea salt
Garnish as shown in photo
3 perfect strawberries with their leaves
4 1/4" slices carambola (star fruit)
2 to 4 Tbsp grated fresh coconut, toasted
Over a low fire, pour one cup of granulated sugar into a small, heavy skillet. Do not stir the sugar. When the sugar begins to melt, move the skillet a little, tipping and turning it so that all of the sugar caramelizes evenly. Allow the sugar to boil until it is a deep caramel color. Add the orange juice and tip gently until the juice is fully incorporated into the sugar. Immediately pour the boiling caramelized sugar/juice mixture into the flanera or other pan, tipping the flanera until the sugar fully coats the bottom and sides.
In a 2-quart pot, combine the milk, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, the cream of coconut, vanilla, grated orange rind, and salt. With a wooden spoon, stir the ingredients over a medium fire until they are well-heated. Raise the fire to high and allow the mixture to boil, but don't let it boil over. Continue to boil the mixture until it has reduced by nearly one cup. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.
To easily separate six of the eggs so that you can use just their yolks, crack each egg into your open hand and allow the white to run through your fingers into a container.
With an electric hand beater, beat the eggs together with the additional yolks until they are light and foamy. Add the cooled mixture of milks. Pour the entire mixture into the flanera or prepared pan. If it is a flanera, cover it and fasten the latch. If it is another type pan, do not cover. Whichever you are using, put the recipient into a baño maría (bainmarie) and then into the pre-heated oven.
The milk mixture in the flanera; the caramelized sugar is at the bottom.
The flanera in the baño maría, just going into the oven. The baño maría can be any kind of pan; use enough water to come about one and a half to two inches up the side of the flanera or other pan.
Bake the flan for approximately two hours. At the end of two hours, take the top off the flanera and test the flan by inserting a thin knife or metal skewer into the middle; if it comes out completely clean, the flan is done. If some of the egg mixture clings to the knife or skewer, bake the flan about fifteen minutes longer, being careful not to over-cook it.
Once the flan is cooked, take it AND the baño maría out of the oven. On a cooling rack, let the flan rest in the baño maría about fifteen minutes more. Then remove the flanera (still covered) or other pan from the baño maría and allow the flan to cool at room temperature until the pan is cool to the touch.
Once the flan is cool, put the flanera (still covered) or other pan in the refrigerator and allow to chill until the following day.
To remove the flan from its mold, uncover and run a thin table knife around the entire outer edge. To ensure ease of release from the pan, dip the bottom of the flanera or other pan into very hot water so that the caramelized sugar liquifies a little. VERY CAREFULLY turn the flan out onto a platter. Mexico Cooks! puts the platter (one with a lip) on top of the open flan mold, calls on San Pascual Baylón, and quickly turns the platter and the mold so that the flan slips out easily. The caramelized sugar will run onto the top of the flan and make a pool in the bottom of the platter.
Approximate preparation time: 30 minutes
Approximate baking time: 2 hours
The finished product, ready to be taken to the dinner table.
Just prior to serving, decorate the flan however you like. In the photo, you see that I put one large strawberry in the center of the flan. I carefully made a border of toasted coconut and then cut the two remaining strawberries in half, leaving the leaves attached to each half, and placed one half at north, south, east, and west on top of the coconut. I then placed four slices of carambola between the strawberry halves. You could also use fresh red raspberries, thinly sliced twists of orange, and fresh mint leaves for a garnish, or any other seasonal fruit, or use no garnish at all.
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