Okay, round one of the “Leche Flan Battle” with “De Lata” on one corner of the ring, and “Baka/Kalabaw” on the other corner. Heeheehee. “De Lata” used Alaska condensed milk (300ML) and Alaska evaporated milk (370 ML) , 6 large whole eggs and sugar for the caramel coating. No other flavorings. I used the finest organic eggs I could find. This is based on the recipe from a book that aims to set the standards for Pinoy food. I realize folks who are partial to “de lata” will refine ingredients further by specifying Alpine vs. Carnation, etc. but Alaska is what I had in the pantry, so that’s what goes into the “de lata” version. Also on the “de lata” corner, are variations that include no condensed milk and use only evaporated milk and sugar, or alternatively, just condensed milk diluted with equal amounts of water. Proponents also will argue over just egg yolks or whole eggs, with the whites providing bulk and lightness. At any rate, the main emphasis on this type of leche flan is the condensed milk.
In the other corner, I used 3/4 cup of egg yolks or 8 large organic egg yolks, note their fabulous orange color. I also used 1/2 cup of sugar and more for the caramel. 2 cups total of whole milk and 45% pure cream, in other words, a mixture of milk and cream where the fat content was roughly 20-25%. Note that the whole milk is from a brick, that’s what I had in the pantry. Although there is a lemon in the photo, I did not use it as I was trying to compare the two entries without flavor distractions. So while I was wanting to add lemon and good vanilla to this version, I intentionally left it out, in a control experiment type move. Whisk up all these ingredients and strain them into the molds coated with caramel. On this side, one could use fresh carabao’s milk which I have done numerous times before, or heavy cream, or just good whole milk. Also, for both versions one might choose to use duck egg yolks for even more richness, I am told. As for time to prepare, they took almost exactly the same amount of time. It took longer to find a can opener and open two cans than to open the milk, but on the other hand, I had to seprarate egg yolks where the “de lata” version used whole eggs. So prep time was dead equal.
Now a word on the caramel coating. I like mine very dark, almost bitter, to offset the richness of the flan. Others like it nearly blond and cloyingly sweet. I tried to make this batch in the middle and was successful for about 3 llaneras, but for the remaining 5 llaneras, the caramel was quite dark. But the darkness or lightness applied to both types of flan, so again this would not be the issue, only the cream to condensed milk difference would be under scrutiny.
I have always baked my leche flan in a hot water bath, previously at 375F, but with Sister’s sage counsel, I have lowered this oven temperature to 310F instead and gone for a lower heat, slower hot bath for the custard. In the same oven I had 4 llaners, two “de latas” and two “baka/kalabaws). One of each at the hotter back section of the oven and one of each at the front part of the oven. They were in there for roughly 50 minutes cooking time total.
I have never steamed my leche flans so I tried it with four more llaneras. All of the recipe books I referred too simply said “steam the leche flan” or something to that effect. A perfect example of a lack of sufficient instructions, assuming you are a novice. So here is some help for those who have never steamed their leche flans before. Fill the lower pan with enough water to last 30-40 minutes of gentle boiling, say an inch depth of water. Turn the heat on high until the water starts to boil, then lower the heat to medium-low or low to get a gentle not seriously overactive steam action going. I covered the top of the steam pans in a kitchen towel topped by the cover of the pans to avoid steam falling back into the flans. But in retrospect, I would encourage you to top each llanera with foil to prevent condensation falling into the flan. As you can see from this photo, too hot of a steaming action will literally cook your flans in no time at all. Here, I opened the pan after 15 minutes and realized the heat was just too hot, with the flans bubbling up, probably ruined. But at least they were BOTH subjected to the heat torture, and again, still worthy of comparison as the only difference was the condensed vs. real milk.
The flans in the steamer took just 25-30 minutes to cook, or nearly half the time as the ones in the oven. And notice that the darker colored flan “de lata” is also the one that bubbled up a lot more. The flan made with milk seems less affected by the high heat of the steam bath.
Finally, the ones from the oven look very promising indeed, and again, the condensed milk version is a darker yellow/orange color, possibly since the milk had already been processed and included other chemicals. Stay tuned for Round II of the Leche Flan Battle. :)