Pumpkin Flan

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Thanksgiving or even a fall dinner party can be stressful. Hosting triggers my Virgo perfectionist mode and corresponding anxiety so I either sip too much wine or worry too much. I like to prepare as many things as possible in advance so everything the day-of is smooth sailing. Thankfully the last thing you need to worry about is making Thanksgiving dessert because pumpkin flan (or pumpkin crème caramel) can be made a day or two day in advance.

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Pumpkin flan embodies all things basic and good in this world. As of October 1st I only want to eat squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and anything else that is golden and orange. Sweet or savory fall’s produce is nutty, rich, and earthy. The pumpkin and spices did not turn the flan orange, but it did impart its sweet buttery flavor accented by fragrant spices. Flan itself is an extremely versatile dessert- I have made coconut flan, Cuban coffee flan, traditional flan, and cream cheese flan.

When it dawned upon me that pumpkin flan was in the realm of possibility I nary shed a tear. I have a foolproof method for manipulating my classic Cuban flan or crème caramel recipe. Where the classic recipe calls for a half cup of milk, I replace this ingredient with a half cup of the flavor I am adding to the flan like a half cup brewed Cuban coffee or a half cup canned shredded coconut. Whether pumpkin flavored or not, flan is a classic dessert worthy to have in your arsenal.

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Pumpkin Flan

  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 5 eggs
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar divided
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch salt

Allow the eggs to get to room temperature. I am convinced room temperature eggs make for a better flan, but go ahead and use them straight out of the fridge if you insist. Make the caramelized sugar coating for the pumpkin flan first since it needs to cool before you can pour in the custard mixture.

This is the hardest part of making the pumpkin flan, just don’t psych yourself out. Add a ½ cup of the white sugar into the flanera. I have never made flan in anything but a flanera. I have seen that people make flan in all sorts of containers, but I swear by the flanera since the lid and locks allow the pumpkin flan to also steam on the inside of the device. Put the sugar on low to medium heat and have a spoon handy to stir.

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Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT try to taste the sugar as it is caramelizing. The sugar will be molten hot and will surely burn your tongue and your skin if you touch it. Little sections of the sugar will start to caramelize faster- gently stir the sugar so it doesn’t burn and mixes evenly. The caramelized sugar should be completely clear when it is done. The sugar will be a little cloudy as it melts, and it is not finished until it is crystal clear and a lovely rich amber hue. This part is easy to mess up and burn the caramel. You can still technically use it, but it might not taste as great as a perfectly done caramel. Once the sugar is done caramelizing, hold the flanera with an oven mitt and gently rotate the hot caramel around making sure to coat the sides well. Allow this to cool for 30 minutes or so.

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Preheat the oven to 350. Before I got a KitchenAid I used to simply toss all of the flan ingredients into a blender until well mixed. I have whisked the ingredients together, but now I just use the KitchenAid with the whisk attachment and let that baby run for a few minutes. You can literally dump all of the ingredients into a blender, bowl, or KitchenAid. Blend well making sure there are no yellow wisps of the egg yolk or unblended egg whites in the mix. Now place the flanera in a larger 13 x 9 pan and pour the custard mixture into the flanera through a strainer or sieve. You can hear the hardened caramelized sugar cracking as the cool liquid is poured in. Fear not- that is just fine. Now place the flanera lid on and lock in place.

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Place the pan and flanera in the middle of the oven and pour water into the pan half way to make a Bain Marie or water bath. You can choose to add the water earlier, but it is difficult to hold the sloshing water bath and gently place it in the oven. Bake for one hour. Sometimes I feel this step out and add 15 minutes or so to be sure the center is firm. You can carefully remove the flanera lid and jiggle to see if the custard has set. There should be some soft jiggle, but not a liquid center.

Remember as the pumpkin flan is cooling with the lid on it will continue to cook through and become firmer. Allow the pumpkin flan to cool on the countertop until you can handle the flanera with bare hands. Place the pumpkin flan in the fridge overnight. I have tried to serve this dessert within 6 hours of making it, and it was simply not cold enough. Make this dessert a day or two in advance!

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Before serving run a knife or spatula along the edges to separate it from the dish- normally as the dessert cools it will contract and separate from the sides, but it is always okay to err on the side of caution. Place a plate or your desired serving dish over the flan and invert. You will likely hear the pumpkin flan separate from the bottom with a gurgling noise. Lift the dish carefully and scrape out some of the delicious caramel and pour all over on top. Pause to ooh and aah over the beautiful pumpkin flan you have just made, slice, and enjoy!

*For a pumpkin cheesecake variety use only 4 eggs and add a ½ cup softened cream cheese.

Cuban Mojo Marinade

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Cuban ingredients are evading me in New York City. Although I have lived abroad, I never realized how difficult it can be to find integral Cuban ingredients, mainly because I wasn’t looking for them then. Now that I am looking for certain items (mojo, iron beer, mamey, sour oranges, etc.) they simply aren’t there. For a brief second I thought of going to Miami impulsively for a two-day stint to load up on real Cuban bread, mamey, anones, and croquetas galore.

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I have to be honest with you- my search didn’t begin with fresh ingredients to make homemade mojo. I was looking for the bottled stuff- Mojo Criollo either from Badia or bust (full disclosure: I’m actually not getting paid by Badia, it’s just my jam). When I realized this Cuban kitchen staple was not readily in supermarkets I was aghast- “No, Morton Williams, I do not want bottled Goya salsa! Where the hell is the mojo!?”. Thankfully it turns out you can mix lime and orange juice as a substitute for the real stuff.

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Homemade mojo marinade can be used on pork, chicken, duck, beef or fish. I’ll be using the leftover lechon from the mojo pork roast to make tamal en cazuela later this week. Hunger took over once the mojo roasted pork was ready so there are no beautiful blog-worthy pictures, only the lingering sensation of home.

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Homemade Mojo Marinade

Yields: about 2 ¼ cups of mojo marinade

  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • ½ large Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground onion
  • ½ tsp ground garlic
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¼ cup sour orange (or 2 parts lime juice to 1 part orange juice.
  • ¾ cup Spanish olive oil

Smash and peel the garlic cloves and place them in the food processor with the diced onion and dried spices. Traditionally one would use a mortar and pestle, but I can’t seem to find mine. Blend everything into a paste and scrape down the sides with a spatula to ensure everything is blended well. Whisk the spiced garlic paste with the sour orange juice in a glass bowl to make the mojo base. I went on a quest in the lower east side to find sour oranges in vain. I ended up juicing 3 large limes and 2 Florida oranges which gave me an exact 2 to 1 ratio to make the sour orange substitute. Allow the mojo base to sit for around 30 minutes.

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Heat the olive oil to around medium heat and then remove from the burner. Let the olive oil to cool or 5 minutes or so before carefully whisking in the mojo base. I used around ¾ cup of this marinade for half of a chicken for roasting. Allow the protein of your choice (chicken, duck, beef, pork, tofu, etc.) to marinate for a couple of hours or even better- overnight to marinate in the delicious garlic and citrus mojo marinade.

Platanos Maduros

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Platanos maduros are caramelized and crispy on the outside with soft, sweet, and gooey centers.  Plantains, a tropical starchy member of the banana family, can be enjoyed sweet or savory. Platanos maduros which translates to ripe plantains are made from totally tender black plantains. In their very ripe and green form, plantains yield savory and crunchy treats with a hint of sweetness called mariquitas (plantain chips) or tostones.

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Very ripe plantains yield a sweet delicacy called platanos maduros (sweet fried plantains) that caramelize in the hot frying pan and melt in your mouth. I like to let my platanos maduros get extra crispy and nearly burnt. These tiny pieces of crunchy delights almost melt away like sweet chicarrones when done right. Platanos maduros are a celebrated dietary staple and can pretty much accompany any Cuban meal especially picadillo. While tostones might be a reigning favorite, platanos maduros offer a balancing sweetness to rich and salty Cuban dishes.

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Platanos Maduros

  • 2 extremely ripe plantains
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sea salt
  • Lime wedges (optional)

Heat the oil. I placed the heat between 5-6- make sure you wait until the oil is hot. You usually want to use about an inch of oil or so. I like to use less oil or sometimes I quickly sear the outsides of the plantains and then bake them at 350 for 20 minutes with a sprinkle of brown sugar to be somewhat healthier. When the oil is hot fry the sliced sweet plantains on both sides until a golden deep rich brown color with crispy edges emerges.

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Place the plantanos maduros on paper towels to drain off the excess oil when finished. Obviously they taste majestic and glorious when sitting in the oil but for my arteries’ sake I drain them. I like to sprinkle a little salt on the paper towel so they don’t stick and so the salt melts into these sweet treats.

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The platanos maduros will be initially quite hot with crispy gooey exteriors but lava-like centers. Once they do not cling to the paper towel, I know they are ready to eat. Gently use a spoon to see if they will give enough to pull without tearing. Lime is not necessarily a traditional addition, but usually when you eat platanos maduros with picadillo or palomilla the lime used will get on them and taste amazing. A little squeeze of lime only amplifies their flavor.