Postre, (dessert) that evening came in a tiny green glass dish and was the tastiest flan I had ever enjoyed. We dined in a humble casa particular in the small, quiet seaside fishing town of La Boca on the south coast of Cuba. Our tables were on a porch that hung over the water and the moon reflected in the surf. Arianny Diaz Malcolm cooked for six guests that evening in her tiny kitchen with one electric burner. After soup, we enjoyed two grilled fish, caught fresh that morning with salad and rice. All delicious, but it was the delicate flan that caught my attention. Flan is the most common dessert served in Cuba, and I had tasted many flans. But Arianny served the creamiest flan I had tasted.
I asked Arryanny if she would give me a lesson on flan cookery the next afternoon. Keep in mind that the lesson was taught in Spanglish; she spoke Spanish and a wee bit of English and I spoke English and a wee bit of Spanish. But through demonstration and gestures we understood each other well.
Before I arrived, Arryanny had prepared the caramel by cooking 2 cups of sugar until reduced to a caramel, and put it in the bottom of the molds. The molds were the big surprise. She used beer cans and Cola cans cut in half.
She began by putting 2 cups of warm milk in a blender, added 1 ½ cups of white sugar and 1 cup of a powdered product called Coppelia – Leche which I believe was added to thicken the milk. She then added one egg and whipped it all up in the blender until it was thoroughly blended.
When blended, Arryanny poured the mixture into the cans. She topped each can with a pieces of plastic bag that appeared to have been used many times and put an elastic bands (which may have been the top cut from unused condoms) on the top to hold the plastic in place. In Cuba, people use what they have available.
She placed each can in a pan, added 1 inch of water and when the water boiled, she turned the stove down and simmered for 40 minutes. She placed them in a pan of cold water to cool but mentioned that they could go in the refrigerator.
Before serving, she instructed me to run a knife around the inside of the can and flip it into a bowl.
Arryanny made heavenly flan, slowly and with love and made it look very easy.I tried to make make Flan using Arryanny’s technique and the results were not so perfect. I will keep trying.
The History of Flan
Flan as a postre (dessert) has a long history in Cuba. It is a popular dish, and is served in many countries that were colonized by the Spanish. Mexico, the Phillipines and many central and South American countries serve a variation of this dessert. I did some Google digging and came up with some theories on the origins of flan.
Gourmet Sleuth, http://www.gourmetsleuth.com/articles/detail/flan has a good description of the history of flan.
It states, “Flan is the term used to describe the Spanish, Portuguese or Mexican version of Creme Caramel.”
The word has Latin origins that mean “custard”. This method of cooking has been found in food writings of the Roman and Medieval European times and it was believed that eggs had both health and medicinal benefits. One theory states that this dish was served to the Romans as they travelled in their conquests and so spread across Europe.
It is hard to believe that three simple ingredients – eggs, sugar and milk could have such a heavenly result. But I believe there was a touch of magic in Arryanny’s