Flan and a bit of our life here!
We had an abundance of chicken eggs and what is a better way to use them than to make flan? Leche Flan! Actually, our tradition when there is a surplus of eggs is either to make flan or salted eggs and this is one of the few times we decided to make flan because making salted eggs is more economical and less of a hassle; you just need to immerse eggs in a salt water solution for a few days, boil them and... Voila! You have salted eggs! They're great alone, for spreads and dips, or the best is mixed with tomatoes as accompaniment to cured/grilled/fried meats. The flan's process is a little more involved because you have to separate the eggs first, add milk and flavorings to the egg yolks, strain it twice over a fine cheesecloth before depositing it in a caramel lined mold (llanera) and steaming it until done over a low heat so that it cooks gently. The necessity to utilize the leftover egg whites also presents a problem for some. That (daunting) process is one of the reasons why it is only cooked for special occasions not to mention the cholesterol and sugar overload it delivers but it's very nice to have once in a while.
This is a traditional/old fashioned leche flan. It is very different from other "baked" custards like crème brûlée or crème caramel though it may look like one. The caramel is cooked directly in the mold/pan no matter how big or small it is by covering the bottom evenly with sugar and melting it over a stove; cooking it to the right stage is critical and a little more challenging. It is also steamed rather than being baked in a water bath.The main difference that sets it apart lies in its taste and texture. It is NOT supposed to be delicate or light, it is so rich a few bites may be enough to satisfy you though we eat more than that because it is that good. It should "bite" with sweetness but not cloyingly, firm and makunat (sorry, no direct translation; chewy might be the closest but not quite) but still has the ability to melt in the mouth without the help of one's teeth and fragrant with the aroma of dayap a local lime that is similar to key limes. Some substitute vanilla but it's just not the same, for me the flavor and aroma of the lime zest is so necessary to cut through the richness and provide balance for this dessert. Maybe the only thing left to make this ultimately traditional is to use duck eggs but with our chickens' eggs, the texture and flavor is the same if not better.
I would also like to show the real purpose of the llaneras I so often use in my baking cause they are cheaper, easier to find and are so versatile to use for breads and cakes to tarts; I have various sizes from very small to gigantic ones. The one in the picture is slightly deformed (it should be more oval) because I used it for a purpose not intended for it but because they're cheap it's easy to replace them, surprisingly their lifespans are pretty long and I've been using them this way for almost two years. I don't want to use expensive cake pans because my clay pot is a crude environment I don't want to waste money by damaging them. I've used my llaneras here:
Inverted onto a plate, the rich brown top with the glorious caramel dripping is just luscious!
Don't let these small bubbles fool you!
Incredibly dense, smooth, fine, and creamy. The slight bitterness of the caramel, richness and sweetness of the custard and aroma and flavor of the lime makes a dessert that is full of character and flare.
When I was still a child we're already raising chickens; both bantams and large breeds like the Kabir, Sasso/naked neck (locally called as cobras) and Vantress. I don't know if I could call them free range but they are not caged, eat only corn, and roam around the yard all day eating whatever they can find. They even eat our banana TREES sometimes. These are the reasons why the few eggs that they lay are so tasty; although each hen lay only a few eggs there are many of them so a few weeks that we don't consume their eggs we end up with a ton and that's how we have a surplus of eggs every so often. Their meat is also very tough from all the exercise they get but very flavorful, cook them right and they're one the best meats on the planet! We often prepare them for birthdays and other significant occasions much like the flan.
On the summer of 2014, we experienced what has never happened before, many of our chickens died; we didn't know if it's because of "pestilence" or just because of too much heat. Everyday, we bury 3-4 chickens; seeing the trend we had no choice but to slaughter all that was left of the large breeds. I had to do all the cooking as well as all the household chores as my mom was recovering from a gallbladder surgery at that time. I had to cook one every day for 6-8 hours straight over a wood fire for a week. That experience taught me to be more responsible.
The bantams were a bit more resilient and 9 survivors were left, 8 hens and a single rooster. If the rooster had died, we will also slaughter the hens as there will no more hope for a new generation to rise. For two weeks, no deaths occurred so we were convinced that the event has ended. Then hens started laying eggs and a few chicks hatched, every time they lay eggs we just allow the hens to incubate their eggs. After six months of egg less meals (we seldom buy our eggs outside), the "second" generation of bantams are mature and ready to reproduce themselves. We started to consume their eggs but only a little so every batch will have chicks hatched from them.
Here are our chickens now.These are just a few of them as others are still roaming when I took this photo. The "tailless" (just to clarify, we did not cut his tail; it is natural to him) one on the right is a special one, from all the years we've been raising chickens, this is the only time where one sprang from a brood. Isn't he cute?
Yes, the eggs used for the flan already came from the prolific layers of this generation. Our location is pretty rural so it allows us to raise farm animals (our neighbor has water buffaloes and another has pigs), there is a river behind us that floods three quarters of the yard in the morning and drains back in the afternoon so sometimes we see gigantic Tilapias swimming around that we try to catch and the smaller ones are feasted upon by our chickens. Although how rural it may get here, we are just 10 minutes away from the city where the huge malls, cinemas, offices and universities are; so I can say that our place is perfect. Bread is something that you don't make at home because rice is the staple and because it is readily available in the bakeries in every street corner that's why most homes here including us don't have an oven. Most breads here are just something you don't want to eat; full of air, too much yeast, no flavor and stales in a day so there is no way for us to have good bread but to make it myself so I try to make it in every way I can. Dishes are often passed by actual teaching and demonstration, not by written recipes which is a great bonding for the family. How we cook is an art, no one needs recipes here, ingredient ratios or measurements; we just cook by heart with what we taste and what we feel; be it a stew, preserves, or elaborate dishes and desserts. No matter how "inconsistent" our methods are, the magic is they turn out excellent and great every time we make them and this is what I incorporate in my "baking" sometimes. Rainy season is coming soon and I'm looking forward to my dad's fruit preserves, another opportunity to learn his techniques!
Recently, we discovered that this flan sliced thinly is great for sweet sandwiches especially on lightly enriched loaves. It feels like a sweet, creamy,rich soft cheese! It's excellent! Thank you very much!