parisian vanilla flan

Pre Covid -19 I was due to arrive in Milan today to attend a conference followed by a 4 week holiday in Europe. My last stop was Paris, to stock up on bakeware and to celebrate my birthday. Of course I'm disappointed about the change in plans but instead of being self absorbed and moping, I decided to look at the bigger picture. I thought I'd make something very French, a French custard tart known as flan. Full disclosure here. I have never eaten flan before and I don't recall seeing one before but Parisian flans have been all over instagram recently.

I discovered a plethora of flan recipes all in French and thanks to the magic of Google Translate, I was able to translate the recipes into English. I decided to try a recipe by Aurelian Cohen.

Now this is not a recipe you can make on a whim. It has lots of steps and processes and cooling time so you need to start this the day before making to infuse the milk and prepare the pastry. Use good quality vanilla beans and if you can't find crème fraîche most other recipes I found used cream or you can also use mascarpone. The tart is finished with a thin layer of blitzed caramel which is then melted again in the oven. This makes the tart nice and shiny but it isn't a necessary step. In fact the high humidity in Sydney almost scuppered my attempts when the blitzed caramel turned itself back into an unwielding mess after 5 minutes. If you leave out the caramel glaze you'll need to increase the sugar content of the custard.

Here’s the recipe for you which makes a 16 cm flan, 3 cm in height. You'll need to start this process the day before serving. For all my recipes I use a 250ml cup and a 20 ml tablespoon, unsalted butter and 60g eggs. My oven is a conventional gas oven so if your oven is fan forced you may need to reduce the oven temperature by 20ºC.

Parisian Vanilla Flan – adapted from this recipe by Aurelian Cohen 

Flan filling
326g full cream milk
1 vanilla pod 
1 tsp vanilla paste
80 g whole eggs (2 eggs)
75g caster sugar
35g corn flour
20 g unsalted butter, cubed
60g crème fraîche 40% fat

30 g sugar

Milk and vanilla infusion
Place the the cold milk, vanilla paste,the seeds and the scraped vanilla pod into a bowl. Cover and leave to infuse overnight in the refrigerator.

110 g (4 oz) cold unsalted butter, diced
¼ cup icing sugar 
¼ cup almond meal
1⅓ cups plain flour
1 egg, lightly beaten

To make the pastry, combine all the dry ingredients in a food processor, and whiz for a few seconds until well combined and free of lumps. Add the cold butter and whiz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and if necessary, a small amount of cold water and whiz until a soft dough just starts to form around the blade.

Remove the dough from the food processor and gather the pastry into a ball; flatten slightly before wrapping in plastic and placing in the fridge. Refrigerate the pastry for 30 minutes. You won't need the whole amount of this dough for the tart. Wrap the unused portion of pastry in cling film and freeze for another day.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until its 2.5 mm. Cut out 2 strips 26 cm long by 3 cm high and a disc 15 cm in diameter (for a 16 x 3cm circle). Butter the walls of the flan tin and place onto a buttered tray or one covered by a Silpat or baking paper. Press the two strips of dough together, then attach to the side walls of the flan tin. Trim the edges of excess dough with a knife. Then place the disc of dough inside and also attach the disc to the strips of dough. Cut the edges of the dough that protrudes from the flan tin with a knife. Lightly prick the bottom of the pastry case. Place the flan and baking sheet in the freezer for at least 2 hours.

On the day of baking, add half the sugar to the milk in a saucepan and bring the milk infused with the vanilla pods + the sugar to a boil.

During this time, lightly whisk the eggs with the rest of the sugar in a bowl, then add the cornflour and whisk again. When the milk boils, pour it into the egg / sugar / starch mixture and mix with a whisk. Then pass through a sieve (to remove the small pieces of pod bark) into the pan, put the vanilla pod back in the pan (but not the small filtered peels).

Cook the mixture over high heat like a pastry cream, constantly beating vigorously. When the mixture thickens, continue to cook, whisking for 1 min 30 seconds to 2 min. Remove from the heat, then add the cold butter cut into cubes and crème fraîche. Mix with a whisk. Pour into a container, cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from occurring and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Remove the vanilla pod from the pastry cream and whisk to loosen. Pour the cream into the frozen pastry shell to ½ cm from the height of the dough. Bake for around 1 hour (depending on the ovens). The flan is cooked when the crust of the flan is well coloured.

While the custard is cooking, place the sugar in a saucepan and make a caramel (not too brown). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Leave to harden then just before taking the flan from the oven, reduce to a powder using a blender. Sprinkle a thin layer of the caramel powder through a small sieve on the top of the flan 5 min before the end of its cooking. Then return to the oven for 5 min.

Take the custard out of the oven, then transfer it to a rack by sliding the baking sheet or the silicone mat on which the custard cooked. When the custard has cooled, remove the hoop then place it in the refrigerator so that it finishes cooling. Cut it and enjoy it when it has completely cooled.

The end result looked authentic and it was enjoyed by all who tried it. Now all I have to do is wait another 12 months until I can try a flan in Paris.

See you all again next week with some more baking from my kitchen.

Bye for now,



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