Celebrating 85 Years with Flan

My mother just turned 85 years old yesterday, and my family and I are having a small celebration tomorrow night to honor this milestone. Although, my mom almost did not live to see this wonderful age. She almost died when I was a young teenager.

After a life saving surgery for a bleeding ulcer, and a tremendous weight loss due to complications after the surgery, the doctors desperately wanted her to gain weight.

Even as a teenager I was always making something in the kitchen, and I knew my mom loved custards. All types– flan, crème caramel, crème brulee, and pastry creams. Looking at a dessert menu at a restaurant the family ALWAYS knew what she would order for dessert. If there was a custard, they had better save one for her.

Knowing this, I thought if I made her some custard it may help her appetite and help her to eat. After checking with the nursing staff they thought it was a wonderful idea.

A few days later, I brought  my best vanilla custard to the hospital. It was rich and smooth, full of egg and milk proteins to help mom to bulk up. It turned out she loved it so much she sometimes craved it in the middle of the night. The nurses had a solution for this. The custard was put in an airtight container outside on the window ledge of her hospital room for easy access. It was winter time so there was no chance that the custard would spoil.

Now almost every year I make some sort of custard to honor mom’s birthday, and she loves every bit of it.

For mom’s 85th we will have flan- a coconut coffee flan! Flan is super easy to make. So that you can celebrate along with us here is a quick recipe for you to enjoy:

Coconut Coffee Flan

Melt down some granulated sugar, about 1/2 cup to make a caramel. Add about 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice to the sugar to prevent it from crystalizing. Stir it with a fork. Allow it to melt undisturbed in a small saucepan until it is the color of a lightly brewed tea. Remove it from the heat and slowly whisk in about 3 tablespoons brewed coffee. Do this over the heat so that the clumps of caramel melt.

Now quickly pour some of the coffee caramel into each of 6 ramekins. The ramekins should each have a 3/4 cup capacity. Tilt the ramekins so that the caramel covers the bottoms and slightly up the sides of each. Place the ramekins into a rectangular oven safe pan with a kitchen towel under them.

Heat about 1 1/4 cups of milk and one can of coconut milk to the simmer. In another bowl whisk 3 whole eggs and 2 yolks with 2/3 cup granulated sugar. Slowly whisk the milk into the eggs. Add about 1 teaspoon coconut extract and blend well. Divide the custard evenly between each ramekin. Pour some hot water into the pan being careful not to get any into the custard until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pan.

Bake the flan for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cut around each flan with a knife and allow to cool and chill over night.

Invert each flan onto a dessert plate allowing the coffee caramel sauce to spread all around it. Top with some shipped cream and serve at once!

Happy Baking and Happy Birthday Mom!

Chef Gail


Time To Make The Doughnuts

Hanukkah will soon be upon us, which means it’s doughnut time!! I always make apple cider doughnuts, because I love them so much. And I love them so much because I rarely make them, so I yearn for what I don’t make that often. That way, they become a REAL treat.

This year I came upon a recipe in Food and Wine magazine by the owners of Curiosity Doughnuts that uses a Japanese technique to make the dough. The technique is traditionally used to make bread dough that bakes up light and fluffy. When I read through the doughnut recipe, I decided I am all for doughnuts that are described as “light and fluffy”, and I decided to give the recipe a whirl.

The technique is called tangzhong. To make a dough that uses this special method you first make a dough on the stovetop combining water and flour. The idea here is that the flour can absorb a hot liquid like water much more readily than if it were cold. This creates a dough-like blob that once incorporated into a dough will create lots of steam as the doughnuts are fried. The steam not only leavens the dough, but forms a light and fluffy texture. The steam formed within the dough is trapped due to the increase in gluten development from the extra water being absorbed. This increases the structure of the dough, helping the moisture to stay inside the doughnuts as they fry, creating those two lovely adjectives- light and fluffy!

For my doughnut dough, instead of water, I used apple cider, which is water based, and a little butter. Once it was cooked (it only took a minute or two) the dough was allowed to cool. I then incorporated it with some cream, sugar, eggs and chemical leaveners to get a nice, yet sticky dough.

The dough is now in my fridge, chilling on a sheet pan, until I am ready to cut the doughnut shapes out and fry them. I know it’s silly, after all, they are only doughnuts, but I am giddy as a school girl to try this technique.

In a few days, once they are made, I will post some pictures and observations and let you know how they turned out.  I am so excited!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail


The Case of the Missing Bottom

It’s holiday time and life can and will get CRAZY!

This time of year involves all sorts of goodies from cookies, cakes, candies and other confections, not to mention savory dishes as well, that get made and brought to friends and family. It all sounds so simple and ideal. However, say you are the host or hostess of a large gathering and someone brought you their famous cheesecake still on its springform pan base. Don’t see a problem? I do.

When the last slice of cheesecake has been eaten and the party is over, will you remember that pan base and who it belongs to? Perhaps not. Especially after that rum laden eggnog and extra glass of wine or two.

I have witnessed ill will between good friends when someone forgot to return or worse yet, threw out a plate or pan base that should have been returned. In all fairness, it is easy to avoid such problems. After all, aren’t the holidays stressful enough??

The case of the missing pan bottom can be avoided. Do what I do. Bring anything you make on a pretty foil-lined, or holiday napkin covered, cardboard cake circle or an inexpensive holiday plate.

For cheesecakes or tarts that have those false bottoms, create a cardboard bottom to swap out so that the cheesecake or tart bakes right on the cardboard bottom and you won’t have to worry about the metal one getting lost or misplaced. I learned  to create these cardboard bottoms for pans when I worked in restaurants that had no matching bottoms to their false bottom pans.

To do this, just use the real metal bottom to trace its shape onto a piece of cardboard. Cut it out carefully, and then make sure there is a snug fit when you fit it into the pan.

Another tip, before baking any baked good that is baked in a false bottom pan place it onto a sheet pan. This way when the baked good is hot from the oven you can just take the sheet pan out and not worry that the false bottom will come out and burn you, and worse yet, ruin your dessert.

Happy Holiday Baking!

Chef Gail


The Joys of Being a Yesterday Person

The holidays are quickly approaching. Yikes! I never feel ready even when I have almost 4 weeks before Thanksgiving! What is wrong with me, you might ask? I am just a yesterday person. An intense personality that will always do things ahead if I can. I would sleep 16 hours in one night just so I would not have to go to sleep for the week. Just think of everything that I could get done with my sleep requirement out of the way.

I must get this trait from my mother who will make a salad 3 days in advance with dressing, I might add, and wonder why no one ate the macerated mush and then gave her any compliments. Well, you will be happy to know that I am not THAT bad.

I will, however, make all my pie crust dough and freeze it ahead. This can be done up to 3 months in advance. That’s productive because all you have to do is thaw the dough in the fridge, and roll out your crusts as you bake your pies off.

I have also been known to bake bread and freeze that ahead as well. I strongly suggest that you do that and then just re-heat the bread before you are ready to serve it on the big day, whatever big day that is. Be sure that you wrap any bread really well before freezing it. I usually do it in this order, for the best results: bake, cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap, then foil AND then place in a large freezer bag and seal getting as much of the air out as possible. Always label whatever you are freezing. No one likes searching through the freezer looking for an unlabeled item with no name and no date showing when it was made. Everyone always has a story of an item that they found the following year way back in the freezer, dug it out and wondered what the heck it originally was. We have ALL been there!

So all you yesterday  people start your engines, and when you have an hour or two to kill start baking off cookies or just cookie dough. You will feel that much more in control when the family comes to visit, and they will think that you worked for days and days. And maybe you did, but you did it piecemeal and on your own time.

Never feel guilty about making things ahead, except maybe for that salad!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

Refreshing Your Cake

Have you ever had a cake that you baked a little too long or it got a bit hard or dried out??

All you need to do is soften it, by making a flavorful syrup to moisten it. Simple syrups are used all the time in European style cakes especially sponge cakes that tend to be dry or flavorless.

First, make a simple sugar syrup. Combine equal parts water and granulated sugar; for example, 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil in a saucepan and then take it off the heat and allow it to cool. Now you can add any flavors you want.

For a vanilla syrup, add about 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract or the seeds from a vanilla bean that you have sliced open and scraped out.

For a lemon syrup, add a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a touch of lemon extract.

Adding a liqueur adds wonderful flavor as well. Almond, coffee or raspberry liqueurs are my favorites. Add a few tablespoons to the simple syrup and then taste it.

Once you are happy with the flavor poke some holes in the cake you want to moisten. The holes should be deep enough to allow the syrup to penetrate throughout the cake. I like to use thin wooden skewers. You don’t want the holes to be obvious or look like someone mauled your cake. Using a pastry brush dipped into the syrup brush it all over the cake. You will notice the cake will absorb the liquid like a sponge soaks up water. Once the cake appears moist stop brushing. The cake should not appear wet. Allow your refreshed cake to soak in all of its glory with its newly found flavors.

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail

An Apple a Day…

I have a great idea for you. If you are not a great pie baker but want to enjoy a homemade apple pie? Try making my incredibly easy Puff Pastry in a Hurry seen on my YouTube channel or on this website, or buy all-ready made frozen puff pastry from the grocery store.

Roll the pastry out to a large square or circle. If using the frozen variety allow it to thaw in the fridge first. Fold the edges in a bit to create a border. Place thinly sliced apples, about 2-3, that have been combined with some sugar, about 1/3 cup; a small amount of flour, about 1 teaspoon; and some apple pie spice, about 1/2 teaspoon; all over the pastry leaving the border uncovered. Scatter a few tablespoons of unsalted butter cut into tiny dice all over the apples.

Egg wash the edges and bake the “pie” at 400 degrees until the pastry has puffed and the edges are brown, about 20-30 minutes. The apples should be soft and brown in places.

Vanilla ice cream would be a perfect accompaniment!!

Happy Baking!

Chef Gail