These superb caramelized egg custards scented with strips of lemon zest are one of the joys of Spain. This version is from Catalonia. Often they are made in small, shallow individual earthen dishes, glazed on the inside.
You can caramelize the sugar under a hot broiler or use a blowtorch if you have one. Be sure to have the heat source very hot — you don’t want to damage, melt or toughen the delicate custard beneath by undue browning.
Spanish Flan (4 servings)
150 ml (2/3 cup) light cream and milk, mixed half and half
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon, cut into 8 long strips, bruised
50 ml (1/4 cup) sugar
10 ml (2 tsp) pure vanilla extract
50 ml (1/4 cup) sugar, to glaze
In a saucepan, place cream, milk and 4 strips of the lemon zest and heat almost to boiling (this is called scalding). Place pan in a bowl of iced water to cool it quickly.
In a bowl, place sugar, eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, trying to avoid making froth. Stir in cooled scalded cream.
Divide custard mixture among 4 shallow heatproof ramekins (each 75 ml/1/3 cup), then tuck one of the remaining strips of lemon zest into each custard.
Set dishes in a baking pan and add enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of ramekins. Bake toward top of a 150 C (300 F) oven for 20 minutes or until very gently set and wobbly. Remove baking pan from oven, then remove ramekins from pan.
To glaze custards, sprinkle sugar evenly over each one. Preheat overhead broiler to very hot, leaving space for ramekins to be 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the heat. Alternatively, turn on a blowtorch. Broil or blowtorch custards until a fine layer of caramel forms on top. Serve, preferably at room temperature, within 2 hours.