Dear Howard: one shd. Never attempt FLAN in an unfamiliar and very bad oven – so forgive me if these are full of the unforgivable holes .. .I do hope you’re feeling better – Much love -
-- Undated note from Elizabeth Bishop to Howard Moss
Have you ever made flan? I have, many times. Flan is a light custard dessert that makes a great finish to a heavy meal. Flan isn’t difficult to assemble -- there aren’t many ingredients (at its most basic, there’s milk, sugar, and eggs) and the method is straightforward -- but a lot can go wrong in the baking. If you leave it in the oven for too long or if the temperature is off its mark, the mixture can end up resembling scrambled eggs. If you take it out of the oven too soon, you’ll have an unappealing puddle of soup. I’m not sure of what could have caused the holes in the version Bishop delivered to Moss, her friend and editor at The New Yorker, but given her characteristic modesty, I have a feeling that Moss was quite happy with his get-well gift.
Through the magic weirdness that is Facebook, I caught this update on poet Gabriel Gudding’s page: “Gabriel received the flan and warm smiles and t-shirt from Didi just now on the porch in the marmalade light and snow.” Now there’s a lovely line, yes? Bishop's spirit lives on in more than her writing! The Didi Gabe refers to is poet Didi Menendez, editor of MiPoesias, Ocho, and Oranges and Sardines. She and Gabe are neighbors. Lucky him.
Didi was happy to pass along her recipe (below the jump), but notes that credit goes “to an aunt of a cousin I visited in 1979 in Naples Florida although the almond extract part is my version and not part of the original recipe. Also the cheese variation comes from my mother Salome and I am not sure where she picked it up -- possibly on a bus on her way to work or back from working in the factory when we were kids.” Didi's recipe is my favorite kind - it assumes that the cook has a certain amount of comfort and experience in the kitchen. It's the kind of recipe exchanged between friends and family who know each others' habits.
I can't wait to try it:
Cuban Flan, by Didi Menendez
can of evaporated milk, three eggs (medium size is fine), one can of sweetened
condensed milk and the dash of almond extract. Set aside.
In a tin loaf pan, melt about 1 cup of sugar until it is caramelized. Make sure it spreads to the edges of the pan.
Place loaf inside a bigger pan filled with about 2 cups of water so that the loaf pan is not directly placed in the over rack otherwise the caramelized sugar may burn.
Fill loaf with blended ingredients and place in preheated 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes or until you see the top of the flan is a nice light brown color.
Take out of over and let cool. Refrigerate overnight or for a few hours. Whichever comes first.
Turn over flan on a nice plate and serve so that the caramel is now the top.
Variations on the above:
Instead of almond extract use vanilla or another flavoring of your choosing.
Add 8oz of cream cheese the recipe above and you have made Cheese Flan.
(ed note: this post originally appeared on December 20, 2008)