I think it’s fair to say I have explored leche flan with some zeal. In December 2005, I posted a recipe using carabao’s milk and lots of organic egg yolks, here, after several attempts to make leche flan. It was to be come our standard recipe at home until recently. Then in mid-January of this year, I posed the question about canned condensed and evaporated milk in leche flan, and there was a deluge of comments to that post, which I wrote after reading a recipe in local cookbook. Naturally, a new quest, or “The Leche Flan Chronicles” was born. I started by trying out some flans using plain old evaporated and condensed milk from my pantry, here, dubbed “Round I”. And there was a “Round II”, naturally. :) Then a huge furore formed over my use of inferior canned milk products, with a clarification of preferred brands covered here. It was an incredible search for the right milk products, but I finally found them (although today I notice S&R stocks both Milkmaid and Alpine, myabe my suki reader E read my posts on the matter, heehee) and continued with my quest. I had a little diversion by frying leftover leche flan, just to clog readers’ arteries further. I baked 6 more leche flans, using the right canned milks, in what was dubbed “Round III”. Then I made several SUPERB leche flans using incredibly fresh, creamy and thick carabao’s milk, and thought the chapter on leche flan was adequately addressed, here. That is, until, I found fresh duck eggs, carabao’s milk and dayap on the same day. Talk about the stars aligning for the final leche flan episode…
After reading up on duck eggs, I decided I didn’t want to make leche flans using ONLY duck eggs. Frankly, I was frightened it would simply be too rich. So I opted for the following recipe: 14 chicken egg yolks, 1 whole chicken egg, 8 duck egg yolks, though some whites found their way into the mixture, 5.5 cups of carabao’s milk, 2 and 3/4 cups sugar, and a little dayap zest and a few drops of juice. I could have used all 10 duck eggs in this recipe and you may want to do so if you try it for yourself. Refer to previous posts for method to cook it… The only difference is that I added dayap zest and let the mixture sit for half an hour, after which I strained out the zest. Add a few drops of dayap juice as well. And use dayap, not green lemon, there is a huge difference in fragrance.
For this batch, I used a llanera (aluminum tin containers) and a ceramic dish, just to round out the cooking vessel question that wasn’t dealt with earlier. First off, the results. This was a BRILLIANT leche flan, although if I can shock you, I thought it was almost TOO RICH. If I had done this with only duck egg yolks, I think I would have had a coronary right then and there. So while I think this was stunningly good, knowing how bad the cholesterol count of this baby was took away from this version. The flan itself was almost like eating room temperature butter. The hint of dayap was welcome, and if I had to join a leche flan contest, I might certainly use this recipe, if only because it tastes great, and to boot, it has several wonderful local ingredients such as carabao’s milk and dayap in use, and the twist of duck egg yolks as well. I highly recommend this. But let’s do a recap of leche flan pointers a la Marketman:
Eggs – If using chicken eggs, try and get organic eggs. If the the eggs are small, add an extra yolk or two to the recipe, it won’t kill you. The better the egg yolks, the better your flan. I like the concept of mostly egg yolks and one whole egg, in other words, very little egg white included in the recipe. It goes without saying that you should use the freshest eggs you can get, as opposed to ones that have been sitting in your fridge for two weeks. If using duck eggs, use one duck egg to replace roughly 1.5 chicken eggs, or measure volume if you want to be more precise. I wouldn’t use all duck eggs unless you do have a death wish.
Milk – If you are insistent on using canned milk, then I have to agree on Milkmaid and Alpine, or more specifically, canned products made from whole milk. But if you are serious about your flans, please try whole cow’s milk mixed with heavy cream or anymilk/cream mixture that is roughly 20-25% milk fat content on average. I find using superb carabao’s milk is a brilliant option, particularly if you have access to it, or want to showcase leche flan as a filipino take on creme caramel.
Citrus zest – Personally, I love the hint of dayap in leche flan, but I would strain the bits. The dayap adds a layer of flavor that is subtle enough for most to miss, but strong enough for those with good tastebuds to notice immediately. You may also want to add vanilla, but I don’t find it necessary for a pinoy version, perhaps if catering to a more western palate, I would.
Caramel – I have tried making the caramel with just sugar and with sugar and water. I actually find, surprisingly, that I can control the browning better when I use just sugar. And I do tend towards a darker caramel, almost a bit bitter, while others like it wickedly sweet.
Vessel – While the llaneras are easy and common, I am quite convinced that using a ceramic dish is gentler on the flan, and improves its texture and mitigates potential bubbling. It does take longer to cook, however.
Steaming vs. Bain Marie – hands down I prefer bain marie in an oven at say 320F, as opposed to a steaming method. However, if you must steam, make sure the water in your steamer never reaches a boil and it is a VERY gentle steam and you will get good results as well.
In the flan baked in a ceramic dish up top, I turned it over soon after taking it out of the oven, I was impatient. But the photo just above, had a night in the fridge and just look at it. It looks as good as it tasted. I did have a bit of difficulty extracting it from the ceramic dish.
So in conclusion, the duck eggs add a brilliant richness and smoothness to the flan. I would recommend this if you happen to have the duck eggs, otherwise, do my previous recipe with cream or carabao’s milk and lots of good organic egg yolks. Okay, that’s the end of the leche flan chronicles for now. Enjoy! :)
P.S. I noticed at least a dozen folks leaving comments or sending me emails who actually tried my leche flan recipes with cream/yolks and they all seemed to fall in love with those flans in comparison to the canned milk versions. So while I won’t make a categorical statement about what a best practice leche flan might be, I do hope that those of you enamored with the de lata versions at least try a good cream/carabao’s milk version before getting too set in your preferences… :)