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A Flan's Notes

April 29, 1993|NATHALIE DUPREE

What I thought was a little oral surgery with a local anesthetic has kept me whiny and groggy and a bit mean for nearly a week now. I look fine, but I'm off my feed, so to speak.

It's not just that it hurts to eat; it's that I'm somehow more tired than I expected, and it took me a few days to figure out what tasted good.

But what I crave is custard. Custard has fallen out of favor with those over-zealous health gurus who scorn eggs and whole milk. But as much as I love yogurt, there is perhaps nothing more soothing, more cooling, more sensuous, more geared to getting over the whines than old-fashioned, time-honored custard.

My favorite, which dear loved ones made for me (not just once, but twice), is a caramel flan. In the middle of the night, when the aches seemed harder and the world crueler, and there was nothing on television, and words on the printed page had no staying power, I would paddle downstairs in my boat-like slippers, the new kitten dancing behind me, and dish up some of the thick, cold custard with its delicate caramel sauce. I would give the kitten a dollop in a tiny Chinese rice bowl as a treat, and we would sit and look at the dark sky and eat our custards, silently, respectfully.

SPANISH FLAN

Sugar

1/4 cup water

2 2/3 cups milk

1 strip lemon zest

8 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt 1 cup sugar in water in small, heavy pan set over low heat, brushing sides of pan with wet brush to remove sugar crystals. Do not boil. When dissolved, turn up heat and boil until liquid turns into golden caramel syrup.

Meanwhile, warm 1-quart oven-proof souffle dish at 325 degrees. Remove and pour caramel into souffle dish, using oven mitts to hold hot dish, turning to coat bottom and lower sides of souffle dish with syrup.

Add milk and lemon zest to saucepan caramel was cooked in and heat until small bubbles form around sides. Beat together eggs and 1/2 cup sugar in separate bowl. Pour milk into egg mixture, stirring constantly. Strain. Beat in vanilla. Carefully pour (so it does not foam) into prepared souffle dish.

Place kitchen towel in bottom of high-sided roasting pan. Place souffle dish on towel in middle of pan. Carefully pour enough boiling water into pan to come halfway up sides of souffle dish. Place pan on center oven shelf and bake at 325 degrees until custard is set, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Do not let water boil, as boiling will overcook custard and make holes in it. If necessary, add cold water to pan. Remove pan from oven, then remove souffle dish from pan. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.

When dish has chilled completely, run knife around edge, then shake dish or pull custard lightly away from sides with knife. Place shallow serving plate on top and invert dish to unmold. Caramel will form topping and sauce. Serve chilled. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note : This flan is firm. If looser flan is desired, use 3 eggs and 5 egg yolks or reduce number of eggs to 5.

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