Guests arrive early for their share of this family favorite
For five generations, a luscious baked custard with rich caramel has been the star dessert for Lopez family celebrations. No gathering of this Clear Lake-area clan is complete without the decadent Spanish flan.
Family events are an opportunity to show off cooking prowess, Ben Lopez said.
“You are a success if your food goes first and there is shame if your food is untouched or if some is leftover,” Lopez said. “My mother’s flan is always first to go, it just flies. Relatives will show up early to make sure they don’t miss out.”
His mother, Maria Azucena Lopez, and two of her cousins were bequeathed the flan recipe by their Great Aunt Blanca, who was renowned for her flan. Maria Lopez said the honor was somewhat fraught as Great Aunt Blanca didn’t share the correct ratios of ingredients because she really wanted her flan to remain the family favorite.
“My cousins gave up, but I kept trying different ratios and methods until it was perfect,” she said.
Ben Lopez remembers his mother tinkering with the recipe over many years to get it right, he said.
“She usually adds a little brandy or cognac, which is delicious,” he said. “Once, she added an almond tequila that we like to drink. We thought it would be a home run, but it was awful.”
Maria Lopez’s continued efforts paid off. Not only is her flan a family favorite, but she often makes extra money by selling it to a Houston restaurant.
Also known as a crème caramel, flan might be intimidating for some cooks worried it won’t set or will be too firm. Maria Lopez recommends having confidence and taking it slow. Her other tips: use jumbo eggs and Philadelphia cream cheese; make it first thing in the morning for that evening, or even better the day before; let the caramel cool before adding the custard; and always take extra care turning it out.
Maria Lopez has passed on the recipe and refined techniques to her 13-year-old granddaughter Paloma. Ben Lopez is proud Paloma is carrying on the family tradition, he said.
“Paloma is better at making it than I am, because I still need to read the recipe, but she can make it from memory and on her own,” he said. “She knocks it out of the park.”
Lopez Family Flan
1 cup of sugar
2 cans of evaporated milk (12 ounces)
1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)
5 eggs (jumbo)
1 package of Philadelphia cream cheese (8 ounces)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 small glass of brandy or cognac (optional)
For the caramel:
Put the sugar in a small pot over medium heat. Let it slowly melt. You can use a spoon to help it melt faster. When it’s a medium brown color, carefully pour it into a heat-resistant baking dish. Let it cool before you add the flan mixture.
For the flan:
In a blender, add the cans of milk, cream cheese, vanilla and eggs. Add the brandy, if desired. Mix until combined. Pour on top of the cooled caramel.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and put in a bain-marie (water bath). Bake in a 350 F oven for 2 hours. Make a bain-marie by filling a larger heat-resistant baking dish with water and carefully floating the flan dish inside. Once baked, check the flan with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes away clean, it is ready. If not, bake for longer. Let the flan cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve, carefully turn the flan over onto a serving dish so the caramel runs over the top.