There are a few secrets about cooking good flan. The first is to be very aware of temperature. You are dealing with sugar in liquified form and it is very hot and sets quickly. The other is water bath. Just like a cheesecake, if you want your baked mixture to be smooth, uncracked, and retain its moisture, make sure you include water in the baking process.
Now I love the crackly caramel lace of the creme brulee, but I like my cinnamon flavored flan, so I have combined the two in this little dessert for optimal flavor loading. I love the smooth blend of the flan with the delicate crisp of the caramel lace.
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 (14-ounces) can sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Sugar in the raw
Equipment: 4-6 (7- to 8-ounce) ramekins
Heat sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cook, without stirring, brushing down sugar crystals from side of pan using a pastry brush dipped in cold water and swirling pan occasionally so caramel browns evenly, until light amber. Immediately pour into ramekins and swirl so caramel coats bottom of each and partway up side, then put in a roasting pan. (Cooking tip: The caramel sets up very quickly, slightly heat up your ramekin if you want to buy more time in the swirling process. And be careful!)
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Bring milk just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then remove from heat and sprinkle with cinnamon and let steep.
Meanwhile, blend cream cheese and then slowly add sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and blend until smooth. Slowly whisk in milk until all smooth.
Divide among ramekins and set ramekins in a large cake pan. Pour in enough boiling water to pan to reach halfway up sides of ramekins. Cover pan loosely with a sheet of foil and bake until custards are just set (they will still wobble slightly in center when tapped), 45 to 55 minutes.
Remove ramekins from water bath and let stand at least 15 minutes (flan will continue to set).
Make sure you have a rack on top shelf of oven just below broiler coils. Preheat to Broil-Hi. On each cooled flan ramekin, sprinkle with pure cane sugar (about a tablespoon a ramekin) Place directly under the broiler coil for 1-3 minutes, watching carefully and rotating if needed to ensure an even coating. The sugar will start to liquify. Don’t overdo it, you don’t want scorched sugar on the top of your perfect flan. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature.
Just before serving (warm or at room temperature), run a thin knife around flans to loosen, then invert onto plates. The thin caramel will be on the bottom when inverted and the soft caramel syrup will be on the top.