Celebrating Spring With Maple Flan

Winter is finally (technically) over! I know that tonight it will probably snow again before all's said and done, and it will still be cold and windy for some time yet, but still. By this time tomorrow we will at least be reveling in the knowledge that the daylight has finally overcome the darkness, and will increase each day. The cold can't hold out much longer against those odds.

Ahhh. Time to start thing about some seasonal eats. We have just eaten our last parsnips, and are down to our last couple leeks and squashes. I think we have a handful or two of potatoes, and a decent amount of garlic, plus some frozen beans.

That's not a whole lot to get us through until the greens come up in the garden in force, considering that we were only able to sow the first round of them this past weekend. Spring has been so long in coming that we won't be having salads any time soon, thanks to the well-below average temperatures this month.

So what kind of seasonal goodies can we have right now? Well, we've got about 7 pints of fresh maple syrup so far, and the chickens are all laying again. Making the very best of these early spring ingredients, I humbly present

Maple Flan

4 Tbs. maple syrup
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. sugar (regular cane sugar is fine, but use granulated maple sugar for bonus points)
2 eggs
2 yolks 
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla

1. First you need to decide how you want to serve the flan. This recipe serves 4 people, and would be best made in 4 regular ramekins (the standard size that holds 1/2 cup). We only have 1 of those, though, so I ended up using 2 of these extra-large ones that hold a cup each. You can also make one big flan in an 8-inch cake pan IF you double the recipe. Whatever method you choose, you need a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold the ramekins or cake pan:


Also, the pot in the picture is for boiling water. Start it boiling first (a tea kettle would work also). You'll need it later for a water bath. Also, preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

2. Add maple syrup to the ramekins, using 1 Tbs. per serving. (That means 1 Tbs. in each normal ramekin, 2 Tbs. in my big ones, and 8 Tbs. in an 8-inch cake pan. That's the last math I'm doing for you, btw.). Swirl it around to coat the bottom:


3. Pour milk and half and half into a saucepan, stir in 1/4 cup sugar, and scald the milk over medium heat just until it starts to bubble at the edges:


4. While the milk is heating, thoroughly whisk eggs and yolks with remaining 2 Tbs. sugar and salt:


5. Whisk hot milk into eggs one ladle-ful at a time. Going slowly will keep the hot milk from cooking the eggs--you need to raise the temperature gradually or you will have a pile of sweet scrambled eggs:


6. Strain the custard mixture to remove any bits of egg that may have accidentally gotten cooked anyway:


Stir the vanilla into the strained custard and you're ready to go.

7. Gently spoon the custard into the ramekins (which should already be in the pan, btw). Go slowly with a ladle so you don't end up mixing the custard and the maple syrup together. You want two distinct layers here, like fancy shots or a viscosity experiment:


8. Pull out your oven rack halfway, and center the pan with the ramekins on the rack. Then take your boiling water and pour it into the pan until it comes about halfway up the side of your ramekins:


Push the oven rack gently back into the oven (so as not to slop boiling water everywhere) and bake until done. Done means that the custard is just barely set in the center (it's not liquid, but can still jiggle).  For normal ramekins, that's about 35-40 minutes. For these big ones, it took an hour.

9. Carefully remove from the water bath and cool on a rack for a half hour:


Then cover in foil and refrigerate for several hours before serving--preferably over night.

10. To serve, run a knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen. Place a plate facedown over the ramekin and invert them together. You may have to give it a sharp, downward pulse or two if it's stuck inside. Voilà:


Our first-of-the-season maple syrup was Grade A Medium Amber, which is a pretty light syrup--it's not the dark caramel that we're used to seeing on a flan. The light color doesn't affect flavor at all, though--this is rich and creamy and oh-so-mapley delicious!

I loved this exactly as-is, but you could experiment with Grade B syrup for a darker finish, or you could further boil the syrup into a thicker, darker consistency if you wanted. The best part about this recipe is that it by using maple syrup, you get to skip the hard part of a flan recipe, which is making the caramel. (Well, we spent days this season boiling sap into that syrup, but you can save some serious time and effort by buying maple syrup at the store.)

I think we may have a new culinary tradition to ring in the spring!

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