Sweet sticky caramel, thick creamy custard, what’s not to love?
Nothing – the answer would be nothing.
This little piece of heaven came as a random inspiration while Cat and I were hanging out in the kitchen working on her cranberry port sauce. As I was leafing through one of my cookbooks – which I finally got out of storage after nearly two years – I stopped dead at the “Tia Maria Caramel Custard” recipe. We started sharing stories about our mutual love for flan and I realized that it’s not very difficult to make and takes very few ingredients. It was also a perfect late night dessert after some hard-core rocking – we got gold on the Wicked Awesome tour in Rock Band 3, we needed a reward.
What I created strayed fairly far from what was in the cookbook, and turned into what I would imagine to be a pretty basic flan. After some quick googling I found that “Tia Maria” is a type of coffee liquor so I believe you could substitute just about anything to create some interesting flavor profiles; maybe some Baileys?! Eh!? EH!? AMIRIGHT!? – – – No? So, just me then?
Now, this was my first time tackling this particular dessert, and although (as I’ll share with you) I had some initial caramel difficulty, I would 10/10 make this again and 10/10 recommend this to you. 
The only changes I might make in the future are experimenting with flavor add-ins and making a larger batch, because my small 9” pie dish was NOT big enough for my sweet tooth. The three of us had a quarter of it each, and then I had another quarter. Fortunately I can justify it to myself by thinking “oh, it’s just mostly eggs – and a shit-ton of sugar”
- 1¼ cups sugar (divided)
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cups milk
- 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- Preheat oven to 350°
- Combine ¾ cups of sugar and water in a medium sized pot stirring until smooth and place on stove over medium-high heat. Bring to bubble without stirring or disturbing.
- Once it turns a golden *caramel* color, remove from heat and pour into a 9" glass (preferred) baking dish - Note: Watch carefully, caramel can go from perfect to burnt in a matter of seconds. - Tip your baking dish to get caramel to coat the bottom and the sides
- Combine milk, ½ cup of sugar, and vanilla extract in another medium sized pot and bring to bubble stirring occasionally - Note: Watch carefully at the end and remove from heat just as it starts to bubble, milk can scald quickly
- While your milk mixture is doing its thing crack your eggs and extra yolk into a large mixing bowl. Whisk (or you can use an electric hand mixer) at a high speed until your eggs are smooth and there aren’t any distinguishable strings of white or yolk
- When you milk is ready you’ll need to temper your eggs – this means to equalize the temperature difference a bit so your eggs don’t scramble as soon as the milk hits it
- Start by dipping your whisk into your milk and then moving it to your eggs and mixing
- Then pour just the tiniest bit of your milk into the eggs all while whisking at a brisk pace
- Add a little bit more, and then a little bit more, all while whisking
- After about 3 or 4 times of doing little batches it should be safe to pour the rest of your milk mixture in while whisking
- Once your milk and eggs are combined, pour the custard mixture into your caramelized baking dish
- Place the dish (carefully) in a roasting pan and add enough water into the pan to come up about an inch on the sides. Place (again, carefully) into your preheated oven and bake for 40 minutes – check occasionally towards the end to ensure there isn’t any burning occurring, especially if you have an uneven or unreliable oven.
- Your flan should remain a nice muted yellow egg-y color on the top, a few golden baking spots are okay though. When you jiggle the dish it should wiggle, but not slosh. And as with pretty much any baked item feel free to insert the tip of a small sharp knife into the center to see if it comes out “clean”
- When finished, remove from oven and get ready to flip by running a sharp knife along the edge of the flan to release the custard from the sides
- Place a large plate or tray (with edges that curve up to ensure caramel doesn't run off) upside-down on top of your baking dish, then, using pot holders or a thick dishtowel, grasp the plate/baking dish so that your thumbs are pressing the plate against the dish, and your fingers are pressing the dish against the plate.
- Quickly flip the plate/dish so that you've inverted the dish on top of the plate. The flan should release by itself - Note: Once you've started to flip, commit to the action otherwise the caramel will run out everywhere, or even worse, your flan could hit the floor
- Remove the baking dish from your flan by lifting straight up and let sit until your flan reaches room temperature
- When you serve, be sure to spoon some of that extra caramel on top of your slice!
I had some, challenges, with my caramel. It’s a super simple process, but my first attempt involved following the instructions in the book, which just didn’t work out. It called for adding ½ cup of water to your caramel, and then melting the resulting rock formation.
After stirring and stirring and stirring over the heat, it melted, but stayed really thin and did not thicken again; it wouldn’t even coat the back of my spoon, I knew it wouldn’t coat the baking dish.
So I scratched that and tried again, this time following my instincts and just melting the sugar – which would have been fine if I was even remotely paying attention instead of on reddit. It ended up burning on the bottom, and not melting on the top. It melted fine when I mixed it, but by that point it was just too burnt and the flavor wouldn’t have been right. So I scratched that one too!
My third attempt was successful though and coated my dish beautifully.
I had some concerns about my custard initially as we only had fat free milk; I did add a few tablespoons of whipping cream to try and make a balance, but it seemed to not make a difference. The texture and consistency of the flan was perfect. Eggs are such an amazing binder.
I let it bake for the full 40 minutes and then flipped it onto my plate as soon as I took it out of the oven. It did a weird bendy thing and seemed to have a “kill me now” air about it, but was delicious all the same.
I was disappointed to see how little I had made though, it looked particularly… short.
A great cure for that would be to make a larger batch, or to bake in individual ramekins.
Either way this dessert was delicious and is simple to make – if you don’t take forever feckin’ up your caramel.
*Fun Fact: When she was 10-13ish, only 1 out of every 5 batches of sugar cookie dough would make it past the butter/sugar stage and end up in the oven instead of Brie’s stomach. #ThisIsWhyI’mFat
P.S. She also set the microwave on fire during the same era while making home-made microwavable popcorn. Pro tip: Alton Brown is WRONG and you cannot put a paper bag with staples into the microwave; things will go badly.
P.P.S Happy ending. Even though to put out the fire she threw a bowl of water onto it and shorted all the circuits, the microwave started working after a week and her mom was non-the-wiser.
P.P.P.S But, I guess not any longer…