When you peer into the window of a traditional French bakery, you may feel a little overwhelmed.
So many individual cakes to choose from, not to mention an impressive array of pastries ranging from a chocolate éclair to a tasty chausson aux pommes. Usually, though, you might have a precise idea of what it is exactly you're in the mood for. I've been known to think of a pain au chocolat for a few hours until I could actually go out, walk (alright, walk very fast...and maybe even run) to the nearest boulangerie and grab a warm, buttery rectangle of happiness. In that case, you don't really see what else is in the window because you just don't really care.
For the times when you do look in the window, however, there's a classic that often goes unnoticed: the flan. Also called flan pâtissier or flan parisien, it's a pastry crust filled with a sweet egg custard that bakes into a beautiful, dense yet creamy dessert. Flan is sold in large slices, and I can understand that a slice of yellow custard may not seem amazing next to a pistachio-green religieuse for some. Many of my friends aren't huge fans of the taste of flan, either--it's easy to have a bad experience with an altogether too sweet and too "eggy" supermarket version.
Rustic and delicious.
As for me, I was completely unopinionated about flan until last summer, when my Maman made Pierre Hermé's water-based version. It was delicious and made me add flan to my (very long) list of desserts I could eat all day long, but it was also quite time consuming. When I came across pastry chef Christophe Michalak's quick and easy version of a crust-less flan, I had to give it a try.
You might miss the pastry crust, but the flan is definitely a keeper. It comes together quickly and doesn't disappoint: the texture is just dense enough, without becoming rubbery. The distinct creamy taste is present but doesn't overwhelm.
Try it out, just this once. You might never look at that lonely slice of flan the same again.
adapted from Christophe Michalak
2 c. milk (any kind will work but whole yields a richer custard)
1 c. heavy cream
5 egg yolks
1/2 c. + 1 TB granulated sugar
1/3 c. cornstarch
1 TS vanilla extract
Butter and flour an 8-inch pastry circle or 6 individual pastry circles (if you don't have these, you can use a cake pan but you may have a harder time removing the flan).
Bring milk and cream to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat.
In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Pour in boiling milk and cream, mix, and place mixture in saucepan. Cook for another 30 seconds after it starts to boil again.
Place custard in a shallow baking dish and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the custard. Refrigerate until cool.
Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.
Place pastry circle(s) on a baking sheet covered with a baking mat or parchment paper. Remove custard from the fridge, whisk, and pour into pastry circle; smooth top. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until top is very golden.
Cool and remove pastry circle. Serve cold. This flan can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for up to two days.