Flan de Coco
It’s always strange to me when I see flan listed as special on a dessert menu. Far from specialized in Cuban restaurants, it’s not rare to find an all-flan menu – de leche, de queso, de calabaza, de mamey and of course – de coco. Yet somehow I never get tired of it. If it hadn’t been brought to the New World via Spain, Cubans would have had to invent it. Most Latin American countries have their own version of this dessert and, while I can’t pretend to be neutral, in the case of flan I think it has to go to Cuba. For me it’s about the caramel. Made directly in the mold, the sugar cooked long enough to go dark amber without becoming bitter (though personally I like it a little bitter). I love the ritual of holding it just over the flame and watching it go clear then dark. It can get away from you easily but it’s always fun to see how far you can take it.
Flan de Coco
This recipe belongs to my Tita Olga though it was given to me by her niece Cely. I called her for an emergency menu rundown for a seperate project and she came through with this smoothly rich flan. Originally, it called for canned shredded coconut, but I replaced it with fresh coconut to extract the oils and infuse the custard with as much coconut flavor as possible. The shredded coconut will rise to the top creating a bottom layer of custard soaked coconut flakes when it’s inverted.
¾ cups of sugar
1 large dried coconut (see notes)
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk
1 14 ounce can of condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
Equipment: 8-inch round metal cake pan (preferably 2-3 inches deep), roasting pan
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Using a corkscrew, open the holes in the coconut’s “eyes.” Invert the coconut over a bowl or measuring cup and drain. Reserve the coconut water for another use.
Place the coconuts in the oven for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove then set the coconuts over a dish towel and tap with a hammer or the blunt edge of a knife at its widest point until a fissure opens that will allow you to crack the coconut into large pieces. Use a heavy spoon to scoop out the coconut meat from the hard outer shell. If you’re having trouble cracking the coconut or separating it from its shell, return the coconut to the oven for an additional 5 minutes, then try again. Peel the brown outer layer and chop roughly into large cubes.
Pour sugar into round metal flan mold*. Place over medium heat and move the pan frequently without stirring, until it takes on an amber hue. Off heat, swirl the caramel so that the bottom and sides are lightly covered. The caramel will be very hot so it should be handled carefully. Set aside.
Combine about 2 cups of the cubed coconut and the evaporated milk in a blender. Pulse on high speed until the coconut is finely shredded, about 30 seconds at a time. Strain over cheesecloth into a large bowl or measuring cup, extracting as much liquid as possible. Reserve one heaping cup of the shredded coconut.
Add the extracted liquid, condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt to the blender and mix on lowest setting until blended. Pour into a large mixing bowl and tir in the drained coconut.
To prepare the baño de María, place the pan in a larger roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan so that it comes about halfway up the sides of the mold. Carefully pour the custard into prepared mold the set inside the roasting pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 60-75 minutes until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean though it may still appear wobbly.
Allow to cool completely then refrigerate covered at least 4 hours or overnight.
To unmold, run a thin knife along the flan and side of mold. Gently shake to loosen. Invert a large plate over the flan and quickly invert the mold in one motion. The flan will gently drop onto the plate and the caramel will flow out so allow extra space around the flan.
Choose a coconut that’s heavy for its size. The “eyes,” or the three black spots at the stem of the coconut, should be free of mold, and you should be able to hear the liquid inside the coconut when you shake it.
The caramel could also be done in a small saucepan then poured into the mold.