Well, I’ve certainly been in a baking mood lately. And a picture taking mood, though you’ve only seen the tip of that particular iceberg. But for some reason the past week or so has been a tough one from a blog writing stand point. I think it has to do with this oh-too-seasonal weather that’s rolled through good old muggy and hot Pennsylvania and the havoc said weather has had on my garden. Some years – fortunately very few – it’s just not fun to be a gardener. I feel bad speaking negatively here about growing your own food, but I think I owe you the truth about the challenges so you don’t all curse my name later when you have late blight wiping out all your tomatoes, squash bugs sucking the life out of your vine crops, massive thunderstorms splaying your corn flat, and deer nipping your beans to the ground. If this is happening to you, take heart (I tell this to myself just as much as to you) as the joys of the garden far outweigh the trials in the long run and next year is sure to be better.
So, in any case, all I really meant to say was that I’ve been lacking in inspiration to write about all things straight from the farm when the “farm” is forcing me to run around in circles looking for the bright side. As it turns out, the world still turns and chickens still lay eggs. Gorgeous creamy eggs to be precise. And the edge of the woods still harbors happy blackberry bushes. Bushes that produce dark sweet juicy jewels to be precise. Who needs vegetables, I say! Bring on the fruity indulgences of summer!
The same friend who generously hands me a carton of these handsome eggs every week also leant me the cookbook from which this recipe for Spanish Flan comes. Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America was a lovely book to read, full of childhood stories from the chef/writer and rustic yet rather contemporary recipes for some delicious looking food. This is the only recipe I actually had a chance to try out before I returned the book, and it is outstanding! Creamy and sweet, with the homemade caramel lending a hint of smoke and warmth to keep the flan from being overwhelmingly sugary. What I found impressive was how smooth the consistency was throughout each of the flans – nary an air bubble in sight. Chef Andres credits this to the low temperature at which it is baked.
Spanish Flan topped with fresh seasonal fruit would certainly make for an impressive and decadent dessert at a summer dinner party. Served with a refreshingly cold glass of fruity white wine, it’s pretty much the perfect ending to the day and a great way to chase away a furrowed brow that’s been dwelling on the state of the vegetable garden for too long.
Adapted from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America
1 C. plus ¾ C. granular sugar
½ C. half-and-half
½ C. heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 lemon, zested
1 cinnamon stick
1 t. freshly grated nutmeg
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Begin by making the caramel. Put the 1 cup of sugar in a heavy saucepan over very low heat. Swirl it around every minute or so until it turns light brown. Begin stirring as the sugar starts liquefying. Once the lumps are gone, stir vigorously (do not leave it or it will boil over and burn!) for another two minutes. The color should be a rich brown.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully add 1/3 cup of warm water. The caramel will sputter and steam as it hardens. Return the pan to very low heat, stirring constantly, and cook until the caramel is thick and syrupy, about five minutes. Take off the stove and allow to cool for a few minutes, but not too long. Divide the caramel between four small ramekins and roll them around to evenly coat the sides and bottom. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 275 F.
Combine the half-and-half and the cream in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla bean, lemon zest, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and the remaining ¾ cup of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, removing the pan from the heat just as it reaches a boil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks. Carefully pour the hot cream mixture into the eggs, whisking vigorously. Strain the mixture into another bowl; then fill the ramekins with the mixture.
Set the ramekins in a deep baking pan and carefully fill the pan with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Remove and let the ramekins cool on a rack or towel.
Store the flans in the refrigerator overnight. Serve cold, turning upside down on a serving plate to unmold each flan.