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Central American dessert saga.

Rich flan and crisp pastries have a touch of history

THESE DESSERTS TELL a tale of how recipes evolve as they move from country to country, from cook to cook. The story starts in Spain with two classics: caramel-coated flan and crisp fried bunuelos.

When the Spanish came to Central America, they brought these recipes. In Guatemala, a soft cheese was added to flan, giving it the delicate density of cheesecake. In Costa Rica, bunuelos acquired a local name: prestinos.

When two cooks from Central America moved to California, they modified their versions of these recipes. Marta Troche switched to cream cheese for her flan. Marlen Campain took a more daring step--her prestinos, made with fried won ton skins, are as tasty and crisp as those made with homemade dough, but faster to make.

Cream Cheese Flan (Flan con Queso)

1/2 cup sugar

8 large eggs

1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 large packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, cut into chunks

Fresh pineapple slices (optional)

Place sugar in a deep 1 1/2- to 2-quart metal mold (plain or fluted) or bowl (not tin-lined; heat will damage). Over medium-high heat, shake mold frequently (protect hands with pot holders) until sugar melts and turns amber color. At once, rotate to coat bottom and sides of mold with the very hot melted sugar; set aside until cool and caramel hardens.

In a blender or food processor, whirl until smooth the eggs, milk, cinnamon, and cheese. Pour flan mixture into mold; cover tightly with foil.

Place a 1/4- to 1-inch-high rack in an 8- to 10-quart pan. Set covered mold on rack; top of mold needs to be below pan rim. Add water to pan halfway up sides of flan. Cover pan. On high heat, bring water to simmering; simmer until flan feels firm when lightly pressed in center (lift foil to check), about 1 hour.

Lift flan from water, uncover, and let cool at least 2 hours. Serve, or, if making ahead, cover and chill up to 2 days. To release flan, run a thin knife between mold side and flan. Cover mold with an inverted rimmed plate; hold containers together and invert. Lift off mold; melting caramel helps flan slip free. Spoon onto plates; serve with pineapple. Cover and chill leftovers up to 3 days. Serves 12 to 14.--Marta Troche, San Francisco.

Per serving: 274 cal. (56 percent from fat); 8.2 g protein; 17 g fat (9.5 g sat.); 24 g carbo.; 168 mg sodium; 167 mg chol.

Cinnamon Pastries (Prestinos)

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

About 2 1/2 cups salad oil

30 won ton skins (each 3 1/4 in. square)

In a small paper bag, mix sugar and cinnamon.

In a deep 2- to 3-quart pan over medium heat, bring 1 inch oil to 375 |degrees~ on a thermometer. Cook 1 won ton at a time, turning until golden, about 25 seconds. With a slotted spoon, transfer to towels to drain. Shake warm pastries in sugar mixture. Serve, or store airtight up to 1 week. Makes 30; serves 6 to 8.--Marlen Campain, Los Angeles

Per piece: 47 cal. (48 percent from fat); 0.8 g protein; 2.5 g fat (0.3 g sat.); 5.7 g carbo.; 1.8 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
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Title Annotation:recipes
Author:Johnson, Elaine
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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