it snowed last night. here in cambridge it was only a dusting, but enough fell that it stuck to the surface. i wonder what freddy thought this morning, his first time seeing snow.
i woke up at 9am (monday morning) to make my annual thanksgiving day flan. it has to be made a few days in advance, to allow enough time for the caramel layer to melt. that first hour was spent just gathering the ingredients and tools. i didn't actually start cooking until 10am. i'd be making 20 flans, which was how many glass ramekins i had on hand. the recipe i had makes 6, so i just scaled everything up by a factor of 3x (18 flans), hoping their'd be enough ingredients left over to final the additional 2 extra flans.
9 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups sugar
4-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups sugar (for caramel)
besides the ingredients (common enough, besides vanilla extract, which could be hard to find depending on where you are), you also need some additional equipment to make a successful flan. you need ramekins to hold the flan, and you need an oven-save tray deep enough to almost submerge the ramekins. typically a lasagna tray works very well, the bigger the better to hold more flan. you also need something to boil water, whether it's a stovetop kettle or an electric kettle (i prefer electric, faster). you need a mixer. i have a hand mixer, but you could also use a fancy tabletop mixer. i never mixed the flan ingredients by hand, i guess you could do it, but it'd be pretty tedious, and you wouldn't necessarily get a good blend. finally, you need a small fine-mesh strainer, just the right size to hold over a ramekin while you pour in the flan mixture. i guess it's not that necessary to have one, but it stains out lumpy bits of eggs you might've missed while mixing the flan.
i discovered this back in july (when i made some midsummer flan for my sister's catering customers), but it's better to mix the sugar/salt/eggs first. the hard crystalline structure of the salt and sugar helps in breaking apart the eggs. once you have a thick yellow-orange blend, that's when you add the milk and the vanilla. you get fewer lumps, if any. in the past i'd mix everything together right away, and it was always hard breaking apart the egg yolks when they're swimming in all that milk.
i used vanilla extract this time around. in years past, i'd use whole vanilla beans, which was a real labor of love. it wasn't simply adding the bean extract; you also have to simmer it in some milk to get it to release its flavors.
around 10:30am i was at the hot water bath stage, and by 10:45am i as melting sugar for the caramel bottom layer. i had all the ramekins coated by around 11am, and then 20 minutes of careful pouring and straining the flan mixture into the ramekins before into the oven by 11:25am. i would need to bake for 2 hours. what confused me was i was left with a tall glass of leftover flan mixture, enough to prepare several more flans. the portions should be perfect, with very little leftover. anyway, i drank down the flan mixture as egg nog. [20161123 note: i realized i made a mistake in my portions. the original recipe was for 8 servings, not 6 servings. so i actually made enough mixture for 24 flan, not 20]
my mother called me around the time i put the flan into the oven that they were coming by at 1:30pm for a pre-thanksgiving supply run at the super 88 asian supermarket in malden. that gave me no leeway when it comes to baking the flan, should they go over the 2 hour mark.
i used to test the flan with a butter knife, poking to see if the blade comes out smooth or not. nowadays i go by color, if there are brownish burn marks, i know they're ready. the 8 ramekins on the top oven shelf were beautifully burnt at the 1:30 mark. i decided to take them out, and give the ramekins on the bottom shelf more time to brown in the final 30 minutes. i also increased the oven temperature from 350° to 400°.
by 1:30pm the bottom flan had browned as well, but not as much as i'd like, though i didn't have anymore time to bake. in the future, i really should bake the flan in batches, as a single layer. i took them out of the oven and cooled them off on the racks.
my parents came a bit after 1:30pm. we went to costco first, where my father returned a pair of pants and we bought a few more things, including a few beers. it was pleasantly uncrowded, compared to last saturday. after that we went to super 88. i like shopping there better than chinatown supermarkets because 1) there's plenty of parking, 2) it's never as crowded (though we usually go on weekday afternoons), and 3) it's easier to get to from my house than it is to go into chinatown. we collected the chinese ingredients we'd need for thanksgiving dinner, things like spring roll skin and taro root.
the weather today was bitterly cold, made worse by fierce winds. we stopped at the cafe to unload some supplies. i went with my father to visit my grand uncle, who's internet phone had stopped working today. the phone icon light was off. when i made a test call, a google voice warning message told me there was an authentication error and i should check my account settings. i couldn't troubleshoot it from there so we disassembled the obihai 200 so i could work on it in belmont. i finally managed to fix it by logging into my obitalk account and relogging into my google voice account. the 3 green lights were steady and i successfully made a call to myself.
after dinner my father gave me a ride back to cambridge. he went over to my grand uncle's place afterwards to reinstall the internet phone. i also gave him a plate of flan (6) for my godmother and some larkspur seedlings to take home.
when freddy came home i asked him excitedly about the morning snow. he showed me some photos he took.