Photo by Arnold Gatilao Creative Commons
Photo by Arnold Gatilao Creative Commons

With its scalloped ring-shape, caramel pudding screams the ’80s — who hasn’t been to a wedding back then and not seen the flan prominently displayed along with the gulab jamun?

Childhood memories of these soggy, weathered puddings meant I developed an aversion to crème caramel. That is, until my recent trip to Mexico City: the Mexicans adore flan as much as churro — you’ll find the pudding at almost every eatery or cafe.

Well made flan is creamy, light and a perfect sugary treat for the summer, something that is sadly hard to find in Pakistan. And while this dessert has become popular in Hispanic countries, its origins are very European.

The modern version of flan has its roots in tiropatinam made by the Romans — a dish made with eggs, milk, pepper and honey. In the Middle Ages this dish evolved; the French replaced the pepper and honey with caramelised sugar, essentially the same ingredients as today. This version of flan, flaon, was a popular street food in French cities. The modern version of flan, with the caramel on top, first appeared in the recipe book La Cuisinière Provençale, in 1897.

This retro but classic dessert is worth a revisit

From Europe, crème caramel was introduced through colonisation to the rest of the world. The Spanish colonisers brought flan to Latin and South American countries, where it is still a very popular dish today, albeit with those areas’ own little twists. In Argentina and Uruguay, crème caramel is served with dulce de leche (caramalised milk); in Costa Rica, the flan often has a coconut or coffee flavour; in Brazil and Venezuela, condensed milk is added in addition to regular milk.

Caramel pudding is also popular in Malaysia and India, where it was introduced by the Portuguese. But it is Mexicans who are unrivalled in their obsessive love for caramel pudding — and that is why, when I made flan, I turned to their version of the dessert.

Mexican Flan

This cold, creamy dessert is ideal during the hot weather. You can also experiment by adding flavours — lemon or orange zest for a citrus-ey vibe, two teaspoons of instant coffee for a caffeine kick or saffron for a desi twist.

The best part? Flan stays well if chilled in the fridge for up to three days (make sure to put leftover flan in an airtight container or cover with cling wrap) so you get to savour your dessert for a while. So, don’t hesitate and whisk, steam and caramelise away!

Ingredients

6 eggs ½ cup sugar 3 cups milk 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla essence

Caramel

¾ cup sugar 3 tablespoons water

Method

Take out a mould or pan to set the pudding in and put aside. Make the caramel. Add the sugar and water to a saucepan and melt the sugar on low heat. If you see clumps on the side but the centre darkening, lower the heat. Continue melting till a dark caramel forms. Pour gently and carefully into the mould.

Put all the pudding ingredients in a blender. Mix well. Alternatively, beat the eggs, add to the rest of the ingredients and whisk together. Pour the mixture into the mould with the caramel and then cover it with aluminium foil. Find a pan large enough to contain the mould. Then you can steam the pudding either on the stove or the oven.

If cooking on the stove: pour hot water till it covers half the pan and put on the stove on low heat for an hour (the water should be simmering not boiling) or until the pudding is set. For the oven method: fill two-thirds of the pan with hot water. Then place in an oven at 175oC for one hour and 15 minutes, or until the pudding is cooked.

When done, set aside to cool and chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Once chilled, run a knife along the edges of the mould, then place a plate on top of the mould and flip over in a quick motion. Serve cold.

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 1st, 2023

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