17 May 2010

French Vanilla Flan

Flan à la Vanille
Vanilla Flan (with title)
Though my trip to Las Vegas was a few years ago, a lot of what I saw there became emblazoned in my memory (and noooo, it wasn't strippers or anything like that). For some reason when I went to Paris back in 2004 (way before I learned to really love food, much less cook), I didn't go to any Patisseries. Seeing one after another in Las Vegas whet my appetite for even more Patisserie, but again I skipped something that I really wanted to try - the flans.
Pastry Display at Lenotre 3
On the top shelf, you'll see the Flan Peche, with that irresistible deep brown burnished film on top of the custard.
I didn't really obsess about them because they weren't a standard in most of my cookbooks, which were in English, and I didn't want to make other pastry that resembled it, because I wanted to know what the real deal was like first. Right now I realize I must sound crazy. Who goes ga-ga over custard?! It's the golden film on top, I tell you...

Curves example
Brief ad - check out my tutorial on the basics of using curves in Photoshop - the most-used image editing tool in my arsenal (and should be in yours, too).
When it comes to pastries, I tend to be a window shopper when I'm alone, because there's always going to be a self-imposed limit of one (or two when I'm feeling naughty). Cookbooks? Fuggedaboutit. If there is a dream library out there somewhere, it's bursting at the seams because of me (thankfully now that I have a job I can really pick them up now). Probably the only things that I end up really buying are clothes, because they come and go really quickly and you have to grab the ones you absolutely love when they're on the rack, because you'll never see them again.

So as you can see, I'm quite a sensible buyer. So I just have to chuckle leafing through Skymall (available on Delta flights around the world!) on the plane in moments of crushing boredom. There are actually plenty of nice items (an umbrella that won't invert, photo scanners, neck pillows), but they are all horribly overpriced. Then there are the items where you have to ask, "Who...? Why...?" No offense is meant to anyone who bought these items.
Now, roses without that pesky thing we call "realism!"
Dipped in 24K gold! Are ya kidding me? Have these around tha house and people will tink youse a MILLIONAIRE! Like tha king of England or tha king of France! Put these in a vase in yo bedroom and add that touch of CLASS!
New acquaintance: Oh hey, what a nice necklace!
Person who bought necklace: Yeah, the necklace is deeply personal.
NA: It's a heart!
PWBN: There's a hole in it because my best friend died and now there's a hole in mine.
NA: Oh, I'm sorry.
PWBN: Thanks.
This is what all your conversations will be like with every new person you meet. FOREVER.
If I had a nickel for each time I thought that a switch cover wasn't manly enough, I'd be flat broke. Talk about creating a need...
MoOoOoOM! I promise I won't lose my cellphone again!! Just don't force me into becoming a social pariah!!
Finally, a fitness technology that ACTUALLY works! (Me: okay, because the rest have been failures... Never mind.) We have developed the FASTEST way to destroy your feet! Disclaimer: maybe it's actually good for your feet. Maybe you only use it for a few minutes. But it looks ridiculously dangerous to me.

And now, my favorite of all:
When you care enough to give a gift that tells a person that you no longer want to worry about laughing at his jokes, applauding his successes, or just plain no longer want to offer him any real companionship and support and he can go f*** himself.
Vanilla Flan
The recipe is a little strange-looking but I was amazed by how well it worked. I was vacillating between thinking the taste was adequate and it might have needed a little bit more sugar, but in the end I think it's good barely sweet - perfect for folks who do not want to be bombarded with refined sugar (which is pretty much my folks and their contemporaries!).

Flan à la Vanille translated and adapted from Gérard Mulot: Pâtissier à Saint-Germain-des-Prés
If you want to include fruits just like they did at Lenôtre in Las Vegas, pour a bit of the custard in the pastry to form a shallow layer and arrange them on top, then pour in the rest of the custard, making sure to get it to flow into every crevice (bang the pan lightly on the counter to make sure of this). Of course, you'll need less custard because the fruit displaces some of the volume. Use a strong whisk to make the filling, as it thickens quickly.
Pâte Sablée aux Amandes
  • 75g (5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) butter, at room temperature
  • 50g (1/2 cup sifted) confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 16g (2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) almond meal or finely ground almonds
  • 1 small egg (or lightly beat a large egg and use half of it)
  • 125g (1 cup, spooned into the cup) all-purpose flour
In a medium mixing bowl, cream the butter, salt and confectioner's sugar together until fluffy. Beat in the almond meal, then the egg, then sift in the flour and beat it in at low speed until just combined. Scoop the mixture into a large sheet of cling film and form into a disk, wrapping with the cling film. Put in the fridge and let it rest for at least an hour or overnight.

Spray a 9-inch springform pan with baking spray. Roll out the pastry to 2-3mm thickness on a lightly floured surface and transfer to the springform pan, allowing it to come up the sides by about 3cm (1.2 inches). In a warm climate you might find this extremely difficult - simply press the pastry into the pan, making sure there are no holes and there is plenty of pastry coming up the sides. Rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230°C (445°F).

Crème à flan
  • 850g (3 cups + 6 tablespoons) whole milk
  • 165g (3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar, divided in two
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 85g (2/3 cup) cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks
In a large saucepan, combine the milk, half the sugar (82g) and the vanilla caviar with the pod and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it boils, take off the heat and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, egg yolks, and remaining 83g sugar until smooth. Discard the vanilla pod from the milk and pour the hot milk over the egg mixture while whisking (you may use a sieve as you pour the milk over to get rid of the pod). Continue whisking until smooth and very thick (Mulot returns it to the saucepan and boils it, but I found this unnecessary). It will be a little thicker than pastry cream or vanilla pudding.

Pour the custard into the prepared crust and smooth the top with a small offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool, then release the springform. Cut off any excess pastry jutting up the top surface of the custard using a sharp pair of kitchen shears, protecting the surface of the custard from crumbs as you go along the circumference using a piece of parchment cut to the shape of a semicircle. Serve warm or at room temperature (but I also like it cold).

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