Monday, June 18, 2012

Coconut Flans with Muscovado Sugar Sauce

Recipes from Alice Medrich are always precise and work like a charm, and now she's given us some really easy ones too. Her latest book is Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts, and I received a review copy. It's a guide to building great desserts from a well-stocked pantry. There are recipes for baked desserts, custards, and sauces, but there are also numerous tips for combining different kinds of fruit or store-bought ingredients like ice cream with other components or sauces. And, most recipes come with suggested variations. This book teaches you to be a dessert-MacGyver. The list of "Things to do with vanilla ice cream" alone could fill all of your dessert menus for the rest of the summer. Some of those suggestions include: serving ice cream on cinnamon toast with chocolate or caramel sauce, and Medrich provides three different chocolate sauce recipes and four caramel sauces from which to choose; drizzling the ice cream with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling with flaky sea salt, and adding dessert croutons; and topping ice cream with Bourbon-Brown Sugar Pecans and peach slices. In the Starting with Fruit chapter, there's a Saucy Cranberry Maple Pudding Cake that I can't wait to try this fall, a Blueberry Cornmeal Cobbler that I'll try very soon, and a list of various fruit sauces both chunky and smooth to add to other desserts. The ideas continue with cakes, cookies, and other sweet bites, and they're all completely simple to do. 

As I read about the flans in the book, I was intrigued by the idea of placing a layer of muscovado sugar in the base of ramekins rather than making caramelized sugar for the sauce. The dark, brown sugar mixed with a little salt, melts easily and becomes a flavorful caramel sauce once the flans have been chilled. The molasses flavor of muscovado sugar sounded perfect for the Coconut Flans. A simple custard was made with coconut milk that had been warmed before being whisked into eggs, sugar, vanilla, rum, and salt. Of course, the recipe suggests using vanilla or rum, and of course I used both. Why choose? The flans were baked in a water bath until the custard was only slightly wobbly in the center. Mine took five minutes longer than the suggested baking time to set. So, pick up a ramekin with an oven mitt and wiggle it a bit to see how the custard is setting as it bakes, and remove from the oven when the wobble seems just right. After baking, the custards have to be chilled, and it's the chilling that makes the muscovado sugar dissolve. So, they need a minimum of four hours in the refrigerator. Then, the flans can be turned out onto dessert plates and topped with lime zest and cinnamon grated from a stick. 

These flans were cool and creamy with lovely tropical flavor. With all of the great ideas in this book, dinner party-worthy desserts for any season can be whipped up at a moment's notice. For that matter, there's no reason to wait for a dinner party. These recipes make it easy enough to have dessert every day of the week. 

Coconut Flans with Muscovado Sugar Sauce 
Excerpted from Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2012.

Serves 8 

Dark muscovado sugar is a deep mahogany color and very flavorful. It easily takes the place of the traditional caramelized sugar in these flans; all you have to do is press it into the bottom of each cup, then ladle the flan mixture on top of it. The sugar dissolves into a sauce when the flans are chilled. These are extra good with a little grated lime zest and cinnamon stick added just before serving. For old-school flans with caramelized sugar, see the variation. 

For the sugar sauce 
2/3 cup (4.625 ounces) firmly packed dark muscovado sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt 

For the flans 
5 large eggs 
3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar 
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or 1 tablespoon rum 
1/8 teaspoon salt 
3 cups unsweetened coconut milk (from two 14- to 15-ounce cans) 
A cinnamon stick (optional) 
A lime or two, preferably unsprayed or organic (optional) 

Eight 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins Baking pan large enough to hold the custard cups with space between them 
Fine-mesh strainer 
Microplane zester (optional) 

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Put a kettle of water on to boil. 

To line the cups with sugar: combine the muscovado sugar thoroughly with the salt, pinching or mashing the sugar to eliminate lumps. Divide the mixture among the custard cups or ramekins and press lightly on the sugar with another small cup to even it out and compact it. Set the cups in the baking pan. 

To make the flans: whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla or rum, and salt together in a large bowl, without creating a lot of froth or bubbles. 

Heat the coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Gradually whisk the coconut milk into the eggs, again trying not to raise a froth. Pour the mixture through the strainer into another bowl to eliminate any bits of egg. 

Ladle the flan mixture very gently into the custard cups or ramekins, disturbing the sugar as little as possible. Some of the sugar may float up, but it will eventually settle back down in the bottom. Put the baking pan in the oven, pull out the rack, and carefully pour enough boiling water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the custard cups. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the custard is just a little wobbly in the center. 

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the cups with tongs. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then refrigerate, for at least 4 hours, or preferably for 12 to 24 hours. 

To serve, run a thin knife around the edges of each cup and invert the flan onto a rimmed plate or into a shallow bowl. Or, serve the flans in their cups—the sauce will be on the bottom. Either way, you can grate a little of the cinnamon stick and some lime zest over each flan before serving, if desired. 

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  1. Super recipe. I've not used muscovado sugar, but it sounds like a great idea. Certainly the results are spectacular! And Alice Medrich's new book sounds wonderful - I'll have to check it out. Thanks so much.

  2. Those look heavenly! Great flavors and wonderful texture.



  3. Lis,
    Dare I ask, what is cocoa milk? In a can?
    do you mean coconut milk? I have muscovado and want to make these. Thanks!

  4. Alice Medrich's recipes are always spot on! Never an extra step and always about great flavors. The coconut flan sounds luscious for a hot summer day. Another cookbook for the wish list!

  5. Lisa,this post brought me fond memories!

    Growing up in Brazil, the "normal" way to make a creme caramel (we call it "pudim de leite" back home), is exactly this way, the caramel goes at the bottom of the ramekin, and the custard poured on top. It is so delicious!

    I gotta make some once my life is a bit less frantic ;-)

    and, of course, the coconut just got me in a tropical daze!

  6. Lisa, this looks delicious and I'm so glad you provided that last photo with the piece carved out to reveal the gorgeous interior... I'm in coconut heaven!

  7. I finally found muscovado sugar and got to try it for the first time last week. I was floored by how much flavor complexity it added to my bread. I bet it will make a very tasty sauce as well. Thanks for sharing this gorgeous dessert.

  8. That's a beautiful looking dessert Lisa. The coconut and the caramel would be wonderful together. I love the flavour muscovado sugar brings to a dish xx

  9. Sometimes quick, easy,and simple is the best thing!

  10. They just look fantastic!!! Can you taste that coconut flavor from the milk?

    1. Yes! The coconut flavor with the rum in the custard is fantastic.

  11. This cookbook has been on my radar of "things-I-need-immediately"...and I really do need it immediately! THese flans sound delicious and I love that dark sugar crust on top.

  12. wow, these look amazing! i'm pretty sure i need to get this cookbook, this is a fantastic dessert!

  13. Oh my, this flan looks sinful. This is a beauty and I can image how flavorful is tastes with the coconut milk and rum. But the caramel is really my downfall.

  14. Intrigued indeed! What a heavenly looking flan, Lisa. I too am a huge fan of Alice Medrich. I must check in to that new book although, I should admit, I'm sure my flan would never come out as pretty:)

    Thank you so much for sharing...

    P.S. We're playing the Picnic Game over at my blog. Wanna "play."

  15. This looks spectacular. Flans and custards are one of my favorite desserts and that sugar sauce sounds like heaven.

  16. What a divine looking desert. Anything with dark muscovado always tastes better:)

  17. This looks DIVINE! The muscovado sugar topping looks terribly tempting!

  18. I've always wanted to make flan with coconut milk. The moscovado sugar makes it so novel. I'm pinning this!

  19. The sugar sauce looks really luxurious ... what a treat this dessert is :)

  20. Oh, I love coconut flan and yours looks decadently good.

  21. A dessert-MacGyver? LOL I love this and if anything it makes me want this book. But hearing all about it and it is now ordered. Absolutely love the concept and I'm sure that every dessert is not only doable but fabulous, too. I love this flan, love it! Thanks for sharing!

  22. i'm not a flan fan, but boy, do i love coconut and cinnamon. i'm torn, lisa. :)

  23. I need to pick up this book. You're right- Alice never disappoints. The flan looks and sounds terrific! And I love the idea of topping vanilla ice cream with olive oil and sea salt. Can't wait to try that out next time I make a batch.

  24. Lisa, I think you chose the perfect dessert to showcase the book. Wonderful flavours and ideal for a dinner party. Great photography too!

  25. Oooo...those do look sinful. :) Flan used to be one of my favorite desserts - very nostalgic. Thank you for sharing the great explanation & photos, Lisa. Always a pleasure.

  26. If the book has desserts like this, I'm definitely interested. This coconut flan has my name written all over it.


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