Flan Pâtissier: French-Style Flan

 

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It’s an intense situation that anyone who gets excited about food has been through: you’re out at a nice-ish restaurant for the first time, you’re waffling between two or three dishes, and you just can’t make up your mind. You can’t even fully participate in the conversation until you get your order figured out. You might as well be playing on your phone for how much attention you’re paying to your dinner companions. You want to try everything! It all sounds so good! And you know you’re not going to be making it back to the restaurant any time soon. What if you choose the wrong thing?? Oh, the agony!

Thank goodness for having friends and family who are just as happy as I am about going halfsies and sharing dishes so we can try more than one. There’s that moment when we finally decide what we’re going to get, and we high-five each other like our team just scored the winning point. (What, other people don’t do this to celebrate their awesome restaurant ordering skills?)

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Luckily for me, my husband and I frequently have the same tastes, with a few exceptions. For instance, he’s not a big dessert fan, and he doesn’t like chocolate. On one hand, this (ahem, weird and inexplicable) aversion means that I don’t have to share anything chocolate with him. When I order that fudge tartlet at the end of the meal, it’s all mine. On the other hand, this means that I don’t get to share anything chocolate with him… That batch of homemade cookies…it’s all mine. Every last one of them. I will end up eating every single cookie that doesn’t get given to friends or taken to work, because my husband will not touch them except to ask me to set aside some of the dough for him before I add the chocolate chips to it.

So, this throws a bit of a wrench in baking at home, especially during Snowzilla when you’re stuck inside and not pawning off your extra cupcakes and brownies on unsuspecting friends and coworkers. As I was stocking up for the blizzard, I actually went about it with the intention of not baking anything and contenting myself instead with mugs of Smitten Kitchen’s hot chocolate (sometimes spiked with bourbon). That mindset lasted for about two days, and then I started second-guessing my strategy and figuring out what spouse-pleasing dessert I could make with what we had.

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I settled on flan pâtissier, which is essentially a super-thick—as in, sliceable—custard cooked in a pie crust. (Not the same as Spanish-style flan.) I’m not going to lie, it’s a bit strange. In my (American) opinion, it’s not as sweet as most things you’d categorize as a dessert, but I noticed that many of the French reviewers of the recipe I followed commented that they had cut back on the sugar. The texture is unusual, too: it’s creamy, but imagine a cross between a pastry custard and a vanilla Jell-O jiggler. I remember trying flan pâtissier in France and not being blown away by it; in fact, this article by Ann Mah pretty much sums up my lackluster reaction to it. So why revisit it if I thought it was just okay? Well, first of all, it didn’t require trudging through 2 feet of snow to the nearest grocery store to pick up new provisions because it uses ingredients that are very basic: flour, butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, and cornstarch. Second of all, knowing what to expect is important, and I think I was imagining that it would be like a slice of crème brûlée when I first tried it. It’s not. It looks richer than it tastes. Don’t go into it thinking that it will be soft and spoonable like most custards or flans available in the USA, or you will be disappointed. It is also noticeably less sugary than anything that qualifies as a “pie” in the States. Know that you’re supposed to wind up with something pretty firm, and know that is mildly-flavored. Third, I really enjoy most dairy-based treats. Lastly, my husband will actually eat desserts like this. I searched some French cooking websites to find crust and filling recipes; the crust turned out great and didn’t get soggy even without blind baking, and the vanilla filling was smooth and creamy. If I had chosen this flan pâtissier in a bakery (and probably suggested going halfsies on an almond croissant too), there would would been some high-fives after ordering.

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Note: This was my first attempt making flan pâtissier, and there are a few things I’d consider changing the next time around, like trying a parchment-lined 9″ cake pan instead of a springform pan. (The recipe didn’t specify what size pan was needed.) I don’t usually cook with vanilla beans—we happened to have one that was probably 3 years past its prime—so I would also be interested to see how it would turn out without the vanilla bean, and rely instead on adding the vanilla extract and a tablespoon of rum (suggested in many comments) after the custard thickened. I might also pass the thickened filling through a sieve before baking it. The pâté brisée recipe comes from Meilleur Du Chef (which I just realized has an English version, although it’s still in metric), and the flan pâtissier was adapted (barely) from the recipe submitted by Eryn Folle Cuisine on Le Journal Des Femmes


 

Flan Pâtissier

says it serves 8, but I think it serves more like 12

  • 1 pie crust—most flan pâtissier recipes call for a store-bought or home-made puff pastry or pie crust; I used the pâté brisée recipe below
  • 1 quart (4 c.) 2% milk, divided
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 c. cornstarch (yes, you read that right)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split open and scraped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter and flour a 9 1/2″ springform pan. Roll out the chilled pie crust into a 14″ circle and mold in into the pan, going about 2″ up the sides. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and let chill in the fridge while you prep the filling.
  2. In a large bowl, beat 1/2 cup of the milk with the eggs, sugar, salt, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
  3. In a saucepan, heat the remaining 3 1/2 cups milk and the scrapings from the vanilla bean over medium heat. When the milk just starts to simmer, remove the pan from the heat but don’t turn off the burner.
  4. Very, very slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture: beat the egg mixture constantly and add a few drops of hot milk at a time until you’ve incorporated about a cup of it, then add the rest in a slow stream, continuing to beat constantly.
  5. Return the mixture to the pan and heat over medium, whisking constantly until thickened.
  6. Pour the filling into the crust (no need to blind bake the crust), and cook for about 40 minutes. Turn the heat up to broil, and broil for 1-3 minutes to color the top. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
  7. Let cool for a bit at room temperature, then place in the fridge and let chill completely before removing from pan and slicing.

 

Pâté Brisée, or what I would just call Pie Crust, or what the British apparently call Shortcrust Pastry

makes 1 generous single-crust pie shell

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 9 Tbsp. butter, cut into chunks and at room temperature (cut first, then leave on the counter to soften)
  • 1/4 tsp. table salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • cold water, about 4 Tbsp.
  1. Mound the flour in a bowl. Sprinkle the butter chunks and salt on top. Rub with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal. (It’s less sticky if you make sure the butter chunks are coated with flour before you start rubbing.)
  2. Mound the butter/flour mixture into a little mountain shape again. Put the egg yolk in the center, and—working from the middle of the bowl to the edge—use your fingertips to gradually start incorporating the yolk into the flour/butter mixture. Add water, 1/2 Tbsp. at a time, to help the dough come together. (I added about 3 Tbsp. total.) Avoid working the dough too much. Once you can gather it into a ball, flatten it into disk, cover with plastic wrap, and let chill for at least 30 minutes.

 

 

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Peanut Butter Pudding Pops

Sometimes I think about the “If you were stranded on a desert island…” question, but with food. Instead of “What three things would you take with you?,” I ask myself, “If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?”

Mine would be ice cream, hands down. Cupcakes and cake aren’t even contenders. Pie, meh. I would have a hard time giving up cookies. But I don’t have to choose just one flavor of ice cream, right? So I can still get cookies ‘n cream ice cream every once in a while to get a fix of both? Also, by “ice cream,” I assume that includes gelato, frozen custard, and dairy-based popsicles. Sounds perfect.

In the category of Foods I Could Eat All The Time And Not Get Sick Of, peanut butter is right up there with ice cream. This could be genetic—my dad’s breakfast is not complete until he has had a Triscuit (or two) with crunchy peanut butter. Me, I’m a creamy girl myself, and I like to get my breakfast PB fix on a toasted English muffin with sliced banana. I’ve also been known to mix a spoonful of that peanutty goodness into a bowlful of granola. (It’s like a peanut butter granola bar in cold cereal form. You just have to smoosh the peanut butter into the cereal real good before you add the milk. Try it.)

I have tried the powdered peanut butter thing. While I firmly believe that it makes a crappy substitute for regular peanut butter when you reconstitute it and use it as a spread, it’s pretty dynamite for making banana-peanut butter smoothies. (Which are also in the PB-for-breakfast rotation.)

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So, imagine how much my mind exploded when I made some spectacular fudge pops from Smitten Kitchen and realized I might be able to tweak the recipe a bit and get the same pudding-y mouthfeel but with peanut butter instead of chocolate. It could just be the perfect trifecta: Peanut butter? Check. Pudding pop that’s basically a single serving of ice cream? Check. Icy cold dessert on a swelteringly hot summer day? Check.

The recipe from is pretty simple: you cook milk, sugar, cornstarch, and some flavorings until the mixture thickens, then pour it into some popsicle molds; the texture turns out pretty amazing, really smooth and rich. I subbed creamy peanut butter and powdered peanut butter for the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder, reduced the sugar a bit, and took out the butter. It turned out exactly as I had hoped: fudge pop texture, peanut butter flavor.



Note: This recipe is adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s fudge popsicles, which itself was adapted from On A Stick! by Matt Armendariz.

I use plastic popsicle molds. Sometimes it can be a pain to get the pops out of the mold. The method that works most consistently for me is to remove the frozen popsicles from the freezer, let them rest at room temperature for 3-4 minutes, and then run the mold under warm water before gently removing.


Peanut Butter Pudding Pops

makes 4 pops, plus a little leftover (my molds are about 2 1/2 oz.)

  • 1 1/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp. powdered peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Put all of the ingredients except the vanilla into a medium saucepan. Set aside the liquid measurer that the milk was in—you’ll need it again.
  2. Turn the heat to medium and start whisking.
  3. Continue whisking frequently until the mixture thickens, about 5 or 6 minutes. For me, it started bubbling after 2 or 3 minutes and thickened up another 2 minutes or so after that.
  4. Remove from heat and pour back into the liquid measuring cup. This will make it easier to fill your molds.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and let the mixture cool a little—10 minutes or so.
  6. Fill your molds and let freeze until solid. I let them freeze overnight.