I spent this past weekend in San Francisco with my sister's family, celebrating my birthday as well as the completion of their new house. Her well-designed kitchen is one of chefs' dreams—not only is she a talented interior architect, but she's also a stellar cook. All of the shiny appliances had me aching to make a mess, so I enlisted her two kids to help me christen the new space with love.
The kids requested their Brazilian nanny's famous pudim, her family recipe they had eaten a million times but never made on their own before. As Annie was leaving for the day, I flagged her down and begged for the recipe. She hurriedly shouted it from across the street, and then I scrambled back into the house to scribble down what I could remember of her vague instructions.
To familiarize myself with this strange new recipe, I typed in what the kids had been calling it—p-o-u-d-i-n—which yielded no results. A few more searches revealed that Annie's recipe for so-called "poudin" was actually p-u-d-i-m with an 'M,' a lesson I immediately relayed to my sister's family. (Just a little off base, right?) I learned that pudim is a very famous Brazilian-style flan made with sweetened condensed milk, regular milk, eggs, and sugar. It seemed delicious and simple enough, so I headed into the kitchen with confidence.
As y'all probably know me well enough by now, per usual, the recipe didn't come together as easily as I planned. Although Annie had told me to make a caramel sauce using only sugar, I found another recipe that used water as well. I should have just followed her directions, because I ended up with a crazy, crystallized mess that in no way resembled caramel, or for that matter, anything of this earth. Round two, of course, using only sugar yielded much better results, proving yet again to trust your gut (or the Brazilian expert) over the internet.
Annie told me to bake the dessert for half an hour at 350 degrees, but a quick peek after thirty minutes revealed a still-completely-liquid filling. I checked out some other flan recipes that cooked for three times as long, so I continued baking the pudim in fifteen minute increments until, according to my very scientific "jiggle test," I decided it was done. Although I initially felt hesitant with some of the components of this new-to-me recipe, all seemed to be okay once it finally emerged from the oven.
In the typical Dozier family fashion, everyone was impatient to sample the results. Even though the recipe called for a long chill, we succumbed to the relentless begging from the kids. My sister did the honors of flipping the pudim onto a serving platter, and within mere seconds the kitchen counter became the host of an island of wiggly flan and a river of caramel lava. My niece and nephew laughed and laughed at our culinary disaster, while we all just shrugged with a grin. I mean, what can you do?
We scooped up the blobs of custard and heaped it into bowls, every bite still just as delicious as could be. And since we destroyed the first attempt before I could take pictures, I smiled knowing we'd have to do it all again tomorrow.
Brazilian-style Flan (Pudim de Leite Condensado)
1 cup sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 1/2 cups whole or 2% milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cook sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking frequently, until a smooth golden caramel forms, about 15 - 20 minutes. Quickly pour caramel into an 8-inch round cake pan (or a ring mold) and swirl until the bottom of the pan is coated. Set aside to cool and harden for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk the condensed milk, milk, eggs, and vanilla until thoroughly combined (or pulse in the blender for a minute). Pour the milk mixture over the cooled caramel. Prepare a water bath by placing the cake pan into a larger baking dish. Set the whole assembly in the oven and then pour enough hot water into the larger baking dish to come about halfway up the side of the cake pan.
Bake until the custard is set and firm to the touch, about 90 minutes. Remove the pudim from the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until cold, for a minimum of three hours or overnight. Before serving, run a thin knife around the edge of the flan, place a large flat plate over the pan, and flip quickly to unmold.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)