Cut a slice and it should look like the edge of an infinity swimming pool, caramel sliding over the edge providing a sheen of bitter sweetness that puts your tastebuds on serious alert. A leche flan has to look good and taste brilliant. Of course, taste is something that differs from one diner to another. But here are the results of the first few leche flans I made, see Round I, here, for background information. I used two different recipes, one from a recently published book that has the condensed milk version, and one that relies on fresh full cream milk and heavy cream. The former used whole eggs as specified in the original recipe, and the latter only uses egg yolks. I realize there are now two differences, the canned milk and the egg whites, an issue I can test further in future iterations if necessary…
First up, an overview. The two leche flans that were steamed (and likely overcooked/singed) are at the top of this photo above. The northwest corner is the milk/cream version and northeast corner has the condensed milk/evaporated version. They were cooked in the same steamer at the same time. The two leche flans at the bottom of the same photo are the bain marie in an oven at 310F version. The southwest corner has the milk/cream version and the southeast corner has the condensed milk/evaporated milk version.
I definitely screwed up the steaming process. It was the first time I have steamed leche flans. But I screwed it up for BOTH versions. So it’s still fair to compare the “oversteamed” examples. In the photo above, you see the condensed milk/evaporated milk version that was steamed. The first obvious feature is that the caramel has burned, was practically black in some places. It seems the added sugars from the canned milks may have combined with the natural caramel and with the extra hot steaming action, went further to burn. It wasn’t inedible, it was nice and bittersweet, but looked horrible. The flan itself was best described as rubbery as opposed to being dense. And again, this could be due to overcooking it, but the cream version was not rubbery at all. There were quite a few bubbles in the flan, probably a result of the excessively high heat. Personally, blindfolded, I could tell this version was not made with fresh milk or cream. It was my personal least favorite of the four flans. And I’m not sure how the eggwhites figure in the equation, but I am leaning towards banishing eggwhites from future experiments as I can’t see what their purpose is other than economy. It couldn’t be flavor. And as for lightness, wouldn’t they encourage bubbling?
It was by no means scientific, but we had 9 tasters in our household yesterday, including our part-time gardener and other folks who came through, and they all tasted all four versions blind, or without knowledge of the version they were tasting and the comments were very interesting. This version above garnered 1 vote as the taster’s “favorite.” They liked it bitter, they preferred a harder, stick-to-the-ribs quality that approximated what they had at home. However, it was the last version to be fully consumed out of the four plates set out. Oh and since this was the version in the cookbook and it had to details about steaming, this could very well be your final result if you used that recipe. Best practice? Hmmm…. :(
This photo above is the milk/cream version in the same steamer. Note how the edges are singed and overcooked, but the caramel did not burn and remains a nice golden color. The flan itself was creamy, and soft and not rubbery at all. There were a few bubbles in the flan, but nowhere near as the previous flan. Also, it is interesting to note that this flan was at least 5-7 millimeters thinner and should therefore have cooked faster and burned more. But instead, the canned version was worse for wear in this steamed battle. This version was the second plate to be polished off and finished, though no one pointed to it as a favorite. Many said this was their second favorite.
The third flan, above, is the condensed and evaporated milk and whole egg version, but baked in a bain marie in a 310F oven. It had an uneven surface, was still best described as slightly rubbery, though less rubbery than the steamed version, and it had a few bubbles in the flan. It had a density to it and that more orangey color reminiscent of market or carinderia flans. Oddly the lady that picked #1 above chose that one over this slightly more refined (in my opinion) version of the same recipe. Nobody this as their favorite and it was the third one to be fully consumed.
This fourth flan was made with milk/cream and baked in a bain marie at 310F. It was delicious. Creamy, silky and smooth, it felt brilliant on the tongue and slid down nice and easy. It wasn’t rubbery at all, and even without flavorings, was in my opinion, by far superior to the others. It even looked better for some reason. There were no bubbles in the flan at all. Blindfolded, I could have told you this was the flan I was used to making, so I am a biased observer. What was really interesting to watch were the other tasters, who while they were happy with the canned version, had these looks of amused revelation when they tried the fresh milk/cream version. This flan disappeared in a flash, 3x faster than any other. It was then followed by the other cream/milk version, then the two condensed milk versions. Now again, I am cautious with my cockeyed experimental results. But I do think that folks need to leave their personal favorites and biases aside and sit down and taste a brilliant condensed milk flan versus a brilliant fresh/milk flan before they decide on their favorite.
The final vote for this round of the “battle”? 8 votes for the milk/cream baked in the oven, 1 vote for the condensed milk with whole eggs in a steamer. And please don’t assume this is a socioeconomic choice, as roughly 50% of the “voters” had never tried a fresh milk/cream leche flan before. If you are hungry now and craving leche flan, just remember the tips from the previous post and all the readers with respect to steaming. But I do recommend you try baking in a bain marie at 310F if you have an oven… Enjoy!