On January 16th, 2008 around 8:30 am, I will be landing at Paris Charles de Gaulles. It will have been five years since my feet last trod on French soil.

On January 16th, 2008 around 10:00 am, I will be taking off from Charles de Gaulle. It will have been five years and two hours since I actually got out of the airport and into Paris. Sigh.

So near and yet so far. My steak tartare on a bank of the Seine river will have to wait…  At least I’ll be leaving France behind for the best reason in the world and without even a look back. My attention will be focused forward, and a smile of anticipation will be painted on my face.

But to humor myself and make up for the missed culinary opportunity in Paris, I decided to go back to the source. France might be the kingdom of bread, charcuterie and cheese, but it’s also absolute pastry heaven.

And hence I give you le flan pâtissier. My favorite French pastry, period. I like it more than Calissons d’Aix, more than lemon pies, even more than croissants! A well done flan sticks together well enough to be bought at the local patisserie and walked away with, yet it will literally melt in your mouth…

Now I don’t pretend to be a specialist; worse, tonight was my first attempt ever. But I’m brave and daring, I don’t mind the hysterical laughter I’ll probably cause, and despite the wonderful Bistro Cooking book just received from Marie which still felt a little overwhelming, I found this simple recipe on the internet and translated it from the language of Molière, bien sûr. Then I took the red pill…

The dough

Called in French pate brisée, I have no idea what the translation would be… Broken dow? ;-)

– 250 g flour
– 125 g butter
– a pinch of salt
– a pinch of sugar
– a bit of water
– 30 cl of hope

Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter cut in cubes on the counter. Squash the butter flat with your fingers and remember when you were a kid. Make a crater in the center and slowly add water, mixing in from the outside. If humidity is sufficient, the dough will hold itself together. When the dough is ready, play with it no longer than 2 minutes and then become an adult again and make a nice loaf. Roll it flat and arrange on a buttered pie cooking pan. Cover the dough with aluminum foil and cook for 15 min. in the oven preheated at 180° C. Next time, buy it pre-made.

The mix

– 1 litre whole milk
– 180 g sugar
– 120 g maïzena (cornstarch)
– 2 eggs + a yolk
– 2 to 3 tsp pure vanilla extract (the original recipe called for real vanilla, which I couldn’t find)

Put aside a glass of the milk and boil the rest with the sugar. While this is heating up, mix into a bowl the glass of milk, cornstarch, vanilla and eggs. When the milk is up to a boil, poor it gently in the bowl, mixing with a whip while singing la Marseillaise. Put the new mixture back on a slow fire and cook for a while, mixing with  a wooden spoon until it thickens. Boil for a few seconds. The flan should be very thick at this stage.

Pour it into the dough and even it out so that it’s really flat. Cross fingers. Cook 35 to 40 minutes. The top will turn a very dark brown. That’s it.

Ok, that was the theory. In practice, I doubt that I waited long enough before taking my mixture off the fire, and so I’m not sure that it got thick enough. As a consequence I had to cook it way longer, probably too long and the crust was a bit tough. The top of my flan kept inflating like a balloon and I feared for my life a few times.

Earlier, I’d played with the flour like a kid, got covered in it and had a good laugh at myself. But then I completely forgot I was all white and went back out to the grocery store to get icing sugar. I got a few strange looks from customers and finally the cashier said: "Uh, you’ve been cooking, haven’t you?" and she  brought her hand to her forehead, taping her temple with a finger. It could have meant "you have flour there" or "you’re nuts". Not sure.

Anyway, after over an hour in the oven, I took the flan out and let it cool down, then put it in the fridge. 45 minutes later, it had hardened to the consistency I wanted. It wasn’t bad at all for a first attempt. Tasted good, too. Nothing like the real thing yet, but there is hope. I cut and ate two slices of flan, same with my pride. And there is a lot left. ;-)

Crappy pictures.

Update: version two looked better but still didn’t taste perfect…