This recipe for almond-orange flan was one of the first I made for my husband’s family shortly after we were married and right around the holidays three years ago. I grew up in a Cuban Catholic home and he in an American Jewish one. As a new wife, I was always looking for how to bring our two cultures together—especially through the meals I prepared.
With its sephardic roots, this was a great addition to the family’s Hanukkah menu. It dates back to the early 1500s in Spain, during the Inquisition, when Jews were forced to convert or face death. Thousands fled, but many remained, pretending they were Christians while secretly continuing to practice Judaism in the privacy of their homes and dinner tables. One way they pretended, believe it or not, was by serving flan, the quintessential Spanish dessert made with eggs, sugar and condensed milk. The inclusion of milk in the traditional recipe would have kept the flan from sharing a Kosher dinner table where meat was also being served. So by the simple act of putting flan on a table, the secret Jews were keeping up their non-Jewish appearances—a move that probably helped save their lives.
In truth, the Jewish cooks had found a way to make a flan that would look like any other but still meet their religious dietary guidelines. They replaced the condensed milk with ground almonds, orange juice and sugar water. The result is a velvety flan with bright and zesty orange undertones. While older recipes call for almond meal, here they’re replaced with almond milk, widely available today. It adds richness while remaining neutral in flavor so the orange can shine through.
I know I’m not alone in my search for ways to blend cultures. As we Latinos increasingly find our way through a wonderfully diverse world, so many of us look for how we can combine the best of our heritage with everything else we pick up along the way. This is just one example of how to do that. Please share with us how you’ve done it.
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
8 egg yolks
3 whole eggs
6 T granulated sugar
3/4 cup unflavored almond milk
1/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp grated orange zest
1. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat. Bring to a boil, and continue cooking the liquid until it turns to a light caramel color. Instead of stirring, swirl the pan to avoid sugar crystallization on the sides. This can take up 10 or 15 minutes. Pour the caramel into eight small ramekins, swirling to coat the bottom and sides of the ramekins.
2. Make the custard for the flan. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a wire whisk. Strain through a mesh strainer into a large bowl. Beat in the sugar to mix fully. Then gradually add the almond milk, orange juice, Grand Marnier, vanilla extract and orange zest, gently stirring to combine.
3. Heat the oven to 350. Pour the custard mixture into the prepared ramekins. Place a large baking dish that’s at least 3 inches deep in the oven. Place the ramekins in the baking dish, then carefully pour enough hot water in the pan so that it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until just set.
4. Remove from the pan of water and allow to cool. Refrigerate until completely cooled, at least 3 hours.
5. To serve, uunmold by carefully running a knife along the sides. Place a flat dish on top of the ramekin and turn it over. Garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. Makes eight servings.