I am a big fan of Thai coffee and Thai iced tea. The iced tea, which is regular iced tea sweetened with [usually a lot] of sweetened condensed milk, is probably a bit more common than the coffee version, but the coffee is made the same way, with sweetened condensed milk. The milk is thick and very sweet, with rich caramel flavor to it, and it makes an amazing pairing with both drinks. When I saw this recipe for Thai Coffee Creme Caramel in the New York Times Dessert Cookbook, I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to see how the flavor translated from drink to dessert.
I’ll cut to the chase: it was fantastic. I can’t remember the last time I had such a light, smooth and creamy flan. It wasn’t tough or gelatinous at all (which some of the less-good flans I’ve tried have been), but incredibly silky and light. The only reason that there are little flecks of flan sitting in the caramel around the dessert in the photo above is that I have never been particularly good at unmolding creme caramel and tend to slice into the custard slightly if I slide my knife around it; I usually just cheat and eat it straight out of the ramekin, caramel and all. The coffee and caramel notes in the dessert were excellent and really represented the original coffee drink well. As an additional bonus, this dessert has only a couple of ingredients and is remarkably easy to make.
I didn’t make the caramel for the dessert – which is poured into the bottom of the ramekin before baking – too dark because I didn’t want a burnt sugar flavor to dominate the dish. Stop at a light or medium amber color, nothing darker than that. The recipe calls for a strong coffee extract to provide the coffee flavor, and has a base made with egg yolks, condensed milk and water. Save the egg whites to make angel food cake or angel food cupcakes the day you’re planning to make these.
This creme caramel is best served chilled, and while it can be eaten at room temperature, it is best to give it a few hours in the fridge to firm up a little further before serving. To unmold, dip the ramekin in a bowl of very hot water for about 20 seconds and invert onto a serving dish. You can slide a thin knife around the edge to loosen the custard, if necessary, but keep in mind that this method might not result in an unmolding that is quite as clean as the hot-water-only method (although it really helps in getting the thing out!).
Thai Coffee Creme Caramel
(from the NY Times Dessert Cookbook; also online here)
7 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coffee extract
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 300F. Get out 6 8-oz ramekins and a 9×13-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, vanilla extract, coffee extract, sweetened condensed milk and water (use the can from the sweetened condensed milk to measure the water) until smooth. Let stand for 20 minutes.
Put a large saucepan of water, about 4 cups, over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, place sugar in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar caramelizes and turns an amber color, about 5-10 minutes. Pour a little of the caramel into each of the 6 ramekins and swirl to coat the bottom. If there is leftover caramel, evenly distribute it in the ramekins. Let set for 2-3 minutes
Strain egg mixture into a large measuring cup. Pour into ramekins. Place ramekins in 9×13-inch baking dish and put the dish in the oven. Before closing the oven door, carefully pour hot water from the large saucepan into the baking dish to form a water bath.
Bake custards for about 30 minutes, until set. When jiggled, the custard should move evenly and should not be wet in the center.
Remove custards from water bath and let cool at room temperature. Custards can be refrigerated.
To serve, dip each ramekin in very hot water for about 20 seconds to loosen the caramel. Turn out onto individual serving dishes.