Flan de naranjas (that’s orange flan to you)

5 Nov

Culinary fiascoes are embarrassing, but even more so when you’re charged with feeding thirty people who’ve just walked 16 miles and are expecting a decent meal. I found myself in that unenviable position while working in a hostel along the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail in Northern Spain.

Our hostel had some rather unique offerings, including the free dinner we served each night to the weary hostel guests. Some of our meals were quite a hit, like the time we served the classic American breakfast. A Spanish couple admitted that they were skeptical when we first brought out steaming plates of pancakes. To them, the brownish disks looked rather bland. But naturally, after one bite, the pancakes won them over and they downed seven or eight apiece.

However, I can’t count lemon pesto pasta as anything close to a triumph. It was nothing short of a disaster. To my credit, I had little experience in the kitchen. And though I was in charge of the meal, the foibles of the other hostel workers certainly didn’t help the situation.

Right off the bat, the person helping me in the kitchen dumped the noodles in a pot of salted water before she’d even lit the stove. As you can imagine, water for thirty-plus servings of rotelle is in no rush to heat up, so by the time it had reached barely lukewarm temperatures, the noodles were a soggy, starchy mess. Meanwhile, some of the other hostel workers went to town to buy basil. But instead of bringing back fresh bunches of the aromatic herb, they handed me one of those cheap bulk bags of dried basil. We only had a half hour until dinner — not enough time to head back to town — so I opted to stay upbeat and finished my makeshift lemon pesto pasta with the dried herbs.

The result, I’m sad to say, was a biting, acidic pile of disintegrating noodles, flecked with electric yellow lemon zest and accented by the not-so-subtle crunch of too many basil flakes. At this point, the hungry travelers were already milling about the hostel dining room, and the setting sun was stealing light from our dim kitchen, so we served my defunct creation anyway and watched as our guests politely picked at the inedible mess. To make matters worse, we only had enough for tiny portions, hardly enough to sustain someone walking the Camino de Santiago. I couldn’t have felt any worse had I given them food poisoning.

As is clear by now, my cooking experience in Spain turned out less than stellar. So, I wish I could tell you I learned this most delicious flan recipe from some dear Spanish doña who took me under her wing and taught me the culinary secrets of her ancestors. In truth, this recipe is one of several Spanish recipes I’ve since learned that are inspired by my time on the Camino de Santiago, though not directly from it.

Unlike my pasta, Penelope Casas’ orange flan will elicit nothing but praise. It comes out of the ramekin looking just gorgeous, almost restaurant-worthy, and it’s imbued with citrus and dressed in a delicate caramel sauce.

Recipe: Orange flan (flan de naranja)
Makes 4

1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoons water
2 teaspoons corn syrup

6 large eggs
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

Caramel directions:

  1. In a small skillet, mix together the first three ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Start swirling the syrup gently (don’t stir) and continue cooking until amber-colored.
  2. Immediately pour into four 6 oz. ramekins to coat the bottom evenly. Let the caramel set and cool completely before making the custard. It will harden and then loosen up once the custard is added.

Custard directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
  2. Lightly beat the eggs with a fork until light-colored, taking care to minimize the amount of air incorporated into the eggs. Add the sugar and continue beating while pouring in the orange juice. Strain.
  3. Place cloth or paper towels in an empty 9×13-inch baking dish. Set the ramekins on the towels and distribute the custard evenly. Place in the preheated oven and carefully pour enough hot water in the baking dish to at least the same level as the custard.
  4. Bake at 325ºF for 45 to 55 minutes, until set in the center. A wooden skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Remove from the water bath and let cool at room temperature. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
  5. To serve, run a thin-bladed knife around the ramekin’s edge and invert on a plate to unmold. Some of the caramel will remain stuck to the bottom of the ramekins.

Photo Credit: MGF/Lady Disdain

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