Dessert, Dairy Free, Gluten Free

Banana Flan

We interrupt your regularly scheduledMatzoh Diaries to bring you the following update:
(always a trump card)

Here’s the deal friends-for too long the Passover dessert course has been ruled by flourless chocolate cakes. Following true Passover tradition, let’s free ourselves from a heavy final course and find liberation in a delicious and simple dessert!

Like most dished this time of year, this is a mega egg-heavy treat(Vegans, avert your gaze). Of course, we had to make it at least a little Renegade, so this flan is both dairy and gluten free. Rock on with your bad selves.

I started making flan months ago, obsessed with all things creamy(custards, mousses, puddings and curds), and when the dust settled there were two contestants standing for the final round-flan and creme(less) brulee. To pick a winner I was looking for high scores in three different categories: ease of preparation, taste and texture. With equal marks in taste, the brulee took a slight lead in the ease of preparation category. That left one round: texture.

To be honest, I was expecting the creme(less) brulee to take home the gold medal. Appearing on far more restaurant menus, creme brulee holds more clout with American audiences than flan. And I was swayed by its star power, I was drawn into its vortex of celebrity and hardly glanced at the flan. What a mistake!

Now, it you’re sitting at your computer shaking two brain cells together in an attempt to figure out the difference between creme brulee and flan, let me save you a trip to Wikipedia. Creme brulee: More cream, less egg. Flan: More egg, less cream. It is that easy. Creme brulee is literally “burnt cream,” it is the flavor of slightly sweetened and set cream. Flan, on the other hand, lets eggs shine as both the structure and flavor of the dessert.

And it was this small but crucial difference that finally put flan in first place. Because I was making both custards without dairy, the fat content was significantly lower than traditional creme brulee and flan. While I love the flavor of vanilla scented cream, the dairy free creme brulee presented one major problem-it took too long to set in the oven. This meant that by the time it came out and cooled, it was slightly grainy. When I took it out earlier (to avoid the grainy quality) it never set fully and left me with ramekins of soupy custard. Relying on the fat content of regular heavy cream to help set the custard, creme brulee normally is silky and beautiful, but there simply was not enough fat here to make that happen. Which is when I really fell in love with flan. The additional egg in the recipe meant that the lower dairy-fat content wouldn’t be a problem. This custard would set by the power of egg.

Once I settled on flan as the winner of the 2010 Custard Games, it was time to glam it up a bit and give flan the star treatment it deserved. I made batches of flan with various flavored extracts, but this left a strong and unbalanced flavor through the custard. Realizing I wanted something subtler, I steeped the coconut milk and vanilla with tea bags in three different batches-raspberry, earl grey and rooibos. The tea flavoring method had two significant advantages. It was unbelievably easy to prepare and the tea bags left the custard gently scented, exactly what I was looking for (the rooibos was my favorite). Unfortunately, when blended with the egg mixture and baked, the tea-steeped coconut milk left the custards an unfortunate shade of grey (fine for serving to yourself, but not something I wanted to present to company).

In the end I realized the easiest way to flavor the custard was with afew slices of fresh fruit. I sliced up some bananas and placed them in the caramel sauce in the bottom of each ramekin. When I ladled in the custard the banana slices floated and mingled with the delicious liquid. As everything baked together, the flavors blended and distributed through the custard. I can’t think of a fruit I wouldn’t like in here, peaches, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, plums-everything makes my mouth water.

I know this isn’t the most traditional Passover dessert, but trust me, when you bring flan to the table after a long meal, your guests will thank you. You can make this in individual ramekins(my favorite) or in one larger casserole dish for family style serving. Save the flourless chocolate cake for next year.

This year?
Passover Dessert Liberation!

Free from Gluten, Dairy, Soy and Corn

  • 2/3 cup + 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 1 Banana, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups Coconut Milk
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped, or 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt

Get Busy

  1. Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. You will need 5 ramekins or one large casserole dish set in a large baking pan.
  2. Pour 2/3 cup sugar in a pan over medium heat. Stir the sugar until it caramelizes and bubbles. While it is still warm, pour 1-2 tablespoons of the caramel into each ramekin. Tilt the dish to swirl the caramel around the sides.
  3. Add 3-4 slices of banana to each ramekin.
  4. In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk, cinnamon sticks and vanilla over low heat. Simmer these ingredients to develop the flavor.
  5. Fill a tea kettle or another sauce pan with water and bring it to a boil, you’ll need this later. When it boils, turn the heat down to a simmer.
  6. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and salt until it is pale yellow and thick.
  7. Remove the coconut milk mixture from the heat and drizzle it slowly into the egg mixture, whisking all the time. You want to make sure you don’t turn the custard base into scrambled eggs, so work with patience. You can pour in some milk, then whisk for a bit, add some more milk and repeat.
  8. Strain the custard base through a sieve and then ladle it into each ramekin, roughly 2/3 cup per dish. Line a large baking pan with a kitchen towel and set the filled ramekins in the baking pan.
  9. Slide the baking pan into your oven and then pour the simmering water into the pan and around the ramekins. Be careful to keep the water out of the ramekins, and fill the baking pan until the water is about 2 inches deep. This will help evenly bake the custards.
  10. Bake the flan for 28-34 minutes, or until the custard is gently set. It should jiggle slightly in the middle when you take it out of the oven.
  11. Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to cool for an hour on a rack. Then you can cover them tightly with plastic wrap and set them in the fridge to chill.
  12. When you’re ready to eat, simply run a knife around the edge of each ramekin before turning it over onto a plate.

Prep. Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 28-34 minutes
Yield: 5 ramekins