Baking is like riding a Horse. Most people would low key love to be able to whip up a British Bakeoff worthy pasty or effortlessly mount a horse with cowboy swagger. Should the occasion ever arise that is. The thing that makes pastry a harder stallion to tame than brownies or cupcakes is its ability to smell your fear. If you are spooked or stressed or baking under pressure the pastry can sense your nerves. It will pray upon your weaknesses leaving you traumatised and reaching for the store bought option the next time you find yourself in need.
I will be the first to tell you that baking has not always been my culinary strength. It is incredibly scientific and there is very little room for error or improvisation, both of which sum up the way I usually cook. That being said, my inner Dorris Day demanded I develop the ability to produce instagrammable home-baking at the drop of a (very light- floaty) hat.
So yesterday I set out with a plan to come up with the perfect flan. It was a flan plan. After eleven hours, three bags of flour including one bag of shortcrust premix- two minor burns and whole bottle of wine (for me not the pastry) I succeeded. I tested my recipe against the store bought premix just for confirmation and am delighted to report it surpassed it in every category.
You will need;
1 1/2 cups plain all purpose flour.
1/3 of a cup of sugar (I would recommend Brown Caster sugar)
2/3 of a cup of butter.
1tbsp maple syrup or honey.
1tsp of vanilla extract.
1 (generous) tsp of cinnamon.
Flan tin/ pie tin.
The egg is a little unconventional for shortcrust but trust me it works a treat. Maple syrup or honey is not strictly necessary but it adds a lovely stickiness and if you have it I would recommend using.
Preheat your oven to Gas Mark 3 (160C or 325F)
Mix your flour, sugar and cinnamon together. Cut up your butter into small chunks and work through with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly.
Whisk your egg, maple syrup and vanilla together.
Combine your wet and dry mixture into a dough. If it is to sticky add a few pinches of flour. It should feel like cookie dough. Wrap in cling film or a plastic bag and refrigerate for thirty minutes. This is a crucial step, don’t skimp on it. Any less then thirty minutes and your dough will be too sticky, any longer than forty-five minters and it will be too crumbly and difficult to roll thin.
Once your dough is out the fridge lay out a some baking parchment and roll your dough out onto it. This is a hack I have learnt after a lot of frustration trying to scrape sticky dough off work surfaces. It makes it easier to pick up and place in a tin and much less messy than covering your table or work surface in flour.
Roll out your dough until it is maybe two or three mm thick. You want to make sure it is wide/long enough to cover your flan tin with an overlap. Your crust will be a lot neater if you aren’t patching up bits around the edge.
Grease your flan tin and place your pastry into it. Gently fit it to the tin and use a sharp knife to cut the overlap off.
Now It’s time to blind bake!
If you’ve never heard of blind baking, it simply means to bake a pie curst or other pastry without the filling. To do this you will need baking parchment (or muslin cloth if you don’t have any) and some dried rice/ beans or heavy grain for pie weights. You can use anything really as long as it’s oven proof. I once used pennies!
Fit your parchment to the inside of your crust nice and tightly, make sure it is folded into the creases and corners of your crust. If your base is not weighed down it will puff up and cause an uneven crust.
Blind bake for twenty minutes (fifteen for a fan oven). Remove from the oven and take out the pie weights and parchment and then bake for another fifteen minutes. This step is important in order to harden the bottom of the flan so that it does not become soggy once you put your filling in. The perfect flan has some crunch to it!
Don’t worry if your crust is hard it will soften after you put your filling in.
Let cool and remove tin and voilà- ready for your choice of filling.
Feel free to change your spices, I recently made a flan for a friend who is allergic to dairy and cinnamon so I used coconut oil as a butter replacement and a nutmeg and turmeric combo instead of cinnamon. If you are using canned or cooked fruit for your topping try adding a little of the sauce or fruit juice to your pastry. It can bring a little extra oomph.
The above picture show a candied pear and custard filling. To make this filling just pour your favourite custard- I recommend a thick hard setting one into the base. Simmer pear slices with a cup of water and half a cup of sugar for apron one hour. Add either almond essence or rose water for flavour. A little food colouring if you want a jazzy colour- or leave plain for a more rustic look.
Try spreading a thin layer of melted chocolate over the bottom of your flan crust before adding custard… this is particularly suited to a strawberry tart!
Final step is glazing with a flan setting gel.