Holidays seem to be the time of year when going off the (dessert) wagon doesn’t raise any eyebrows. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I do have lots of friends and family who would prefer to start and end a meal with dessert, so they often ask me to make something special this time of year, including all kinds of pies, ice creams, sweet rolls, and more. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations are great occasions to try new flavors and recipes along with the traditional favorites. This last month, I’ve found myself making everything from cranberry and white chocolate-laced confections and buttermilk pumpkin cake to orange blossom-scented cookies and flan.
Flan, a delicate egg custard with soft caramel sauce -- as opposed to crème brûlée with its hard caramel surface -- is not in my usual repertoire, but as I was looking for something a little different, easy enough to make in advance and something that would please guests, I remembered this prize-winning recipe from my days as a food editor at Southern Living magazine. Cookbook author Josefa Gonzales-Hastings, shared this recipe that won $10,000 as a finalist in the magazine’s 2003 $100,000 Cook-Off. I remember it unanimously winning the editors’ votes, which is not an easy feat in a kitchen full of opinionated food lovers.
So, what’s to love about this flan? It gets a little extra oomph and creaminess from silky cream cheese, bakes gently in the oven and can be made up to two days ahead of time. Making the caramel may seem daunting at first but give it a try (note: adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice helps if the sugar starts to crystallize). The rewards -- happy mouths and requests for the recipe -- are worth it. The more you make this, the more you’ll realize how easy it is and how impressive.
Caramel-Cream Cheese Flan
(Based on the prize-winning recipe by Josefa Gonzales-Hastings)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup sugar (and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, if desired) in a 9-inch cake pan and place over medium-high heat. Cook sugar, stirring occasionally, until it melts completely and turns golden brown. If the sugar looks like it’s starting to crystallize, add another squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Use a heat-proof spatula or wire whisk to crush the sugar, if needed. Carefully remove pan from heat and let cool; the caramel will harden.
2. Whisk together egg yolks and the next five ingredients in a medium bowl. Place egg whites, cream cheese and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a blender and process until well-combined. Add the egg yolk mixture and process until just combined.
3. Place pan with hardened caramel in a large baking dish or pan. Pour egg and cream cheese mixture over the hardened caramel. Place pan in the oven and gently add water to the baking dish or pan until it reaches about half way up the sides of the flan pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes. The flan is ready when a knife inserted in the center of flan comes out mostly clean. The flan should jiggle just slightly when moved, but not too much. Let cool completely, about 2 hours. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours and for up to 2 days.
4. When ready to serve, run a knife around edge of pan and cover with a plate that is at least 2 inches larger than the pan, to catch the caramel sauce. Invert onto the serving plate. It will take about 30 seconds or so for the flan to loosen completely and release from the pan. Serve with any extra sauce and whipped cream, if desired.
More ways online to hop off the dessert wagon:
Chocolate Dipped Almond and Orange Shortbread by Alaska From Scratch
Laurie Constantino’s Lemon Caketop Pudding
Double Chocolate Bourbon Balls from Arctic Garden Studio
Allergy Free Alaska’s Vegan Pecan Pie Cookies
Kim Sunée ate and lived in Europe for ten years before working as a food editor for Southern Living magazine and Cottage Living magazine. Her writing has appeared in Food & Wine, The Oxford American and Asian American Poetry and Writing. Sunée has appeared several times as a guest judge on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America. She is currently based in Anchorage and working on a cookbook, "A Mouthful of Stars," to be published by Andrews McMeel in 2014. For more food and travel, visit www.kimsunee.com.