The only thing that keeps me going on the 21-hour flight(s) from Denver to Mendoza is the promise of flan. Seriously. Not the warm embrace of my husband's family, nor even a generous pour of Malbec (though that's a close second); it's knowing that when we get to Mendoza, we will have flan.
Our routine over the last few years has been to arrive in Mendoza proceed directly to the food court at Mendoza Plaza Shopping. I know it sounds antithetical to go to South America and eat at a food court that has a McDonald's, but after a day in transit, we're in no shape to eat anywhere buta food court. The Plaza Shopping is a surprisingly good place to people watch, relax, and (duh) do a little shopping. And even though the food court food isn't as high falutin' as the squid-ink pasta at Azafran, I can tell you that after plane food, it tastes like heaven.
But back to the flan. The food court has several buffet-style restaurants that feature dessert buffets, whose desserts range from fresh fruit to dulce de leche/rum-soaked layer cake, but the flan gets me every time. Maybe that's because it's sweet, but not cloying--truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of desserts.
But flan? I gobble it down. I don't gobble often, but flan is one of those desserts I can easily polish off in a matter of minutes and still be thinking about the next serving. Like an inverted Creme Brulee, flan is custard with caramelized sugar sauce running over the top rather than a burnished sugar crust on the top. (In France, flan is called Creme Caramel.) A good custard doesn't taste eggy, but is smooth and creamy with just the right hint of sweetness. There has to be a nice balance between the custard and the syrup, so that each bite incorporates both.
Flan is ubiquitous in Argentina. It can be found almost anywhere--every restaurant, at the supermarket (in little cups just like yogurt), or homemade at someone's kitchen table. As far as desserts go, flan is super easy. The rewards far outweigh the labor--sweet, gooey caramelized sugar oozing over cool, creamy custard. Each bite is a different combination of the custard and the carmel sauce.
Flan can be made in individual ramekins or as one big flan in slices, however you prefer to serve it. It can be served cooled at room temperature or cold from the fridge. Pair with a strong cup of coffee, a dessert wine or sherry, or even a glass of Champagne. (Makes 6 small or one large flan)
1 3/4 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon rum
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
With the oven rack in the center, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and add vanilla and rum.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then raise the heat to high, and cook until the mixture turns into a dark brown syrup. Quickly pour the caramel into individual ramekins or into the large flan dish. Carefully swirl the sauce around the ramekins, tilting so that sauce comes about halfway up the sides of each dish. Take care not to burn yourself--the sauce is very hot!
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and 1/2 cup sugar until blended. Gently add the cream mixture into the egg mixture. Pour into ramekins, and set ramekins into a baking dish . Pour hot water into the baking dish, (taking care to not get any water into the flans) until the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake until the flan is set, about 45 minutes. Set on a rack and cool. Chill until cold, for 2 hours or overnight.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of each flan, and turn it over onto a plate. Lift off the ramekin, and let the syrup to run over the flan.