Tocino de Cielo is a dessert that is a tradition in Southern Spain. It is very similar to flan, especially in appearance, but the two desserts are made with very different components. A flan is made with whole eggs, and milk or cream (usually both), while tocino de cielo is made only with egg yolks, sugar and water. That might actually sound too simple, but this combination of ingredients leads to an extremely light and tender custard – much lighter than a traditional flan or creme caramel – with a fantastically smooth mouth feel.
The name actually means Bacon from Heaven – although it contains no bacon – and there are a variety of stories that try to describe how the name came to be. The dessert itself originated in Jerez de la Fronteta, a city in Andalucia that specializes in sherry production, and egg whites were used to clarify the sherry. This led to a surplus of yolks available for cooking. This custard was perfect for using up a whole bunch of egg yolks in one dish.
To prepare the custard, a sugar syrup is infused with some citrus, and is then cooled and blended with egg yolks before being poured into ramekins. I used both lemon and orange to flavor my syrup, cutting a 2-inch strip of the zest off of each fruit and adding it to the syrup. The ramekins, which are prepared with a layer of caramel at the base before bring filled, are baked in a water bath until the custards are set.
The dish originated as a way to use up leftover egg yolks and is still is a wonderful way to put leftover egg yolks to good use. It is also a good way to create a surplus of egg whites for angel food cake and meringues, because these custards are so heavenly that you’ll want to make them on a regular basis.
Tocino de Cielo
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup water
one 2-inch strip orange zest
one 2-inch strip lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
hot water, for water bath
In a small saucepan, cook 1/2 cup sugar over medium-low heat and stirring regularly, until it comes to a medium amber color. Remove from heat and divide evenly into four 6-oz ramekins. Set aside.
In another small saucepan, combine remaining sugar with water and the strips of orange and lemon zest. Bring to a boil. Using a candy thermometer, cook until sugar reaches 220-225F. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
Remove zest strips and stir in vanilla extract.
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a large bowl, whisk yolks to combine. Whisk in cooled sugar syrup until well combined. Strain mixture into a measuring cup or bowl with a spout.
Pour egg yolk mixture into prepared ramekins, dividing mixture evenly between them. Ramekins may not be completely full.
Place ramekins into a shallow baking dish (I use a 9×9-inch pan) and place into the oven. Carefully pour hot water into the baking pan, making sure that the hot water comes about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until custards are set. A sharp knife inserted gently into the center of one of the custards should come out clean, and they should jiggle only very slightly when moved.
Carefully remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, until cold, before serving.
To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edge of the custard and invert onto a serving dish.