So this has turned out to be a food weekend. In other words, cooking has taken up much of my time. I figure all the leaves that need to be raked up out in the yard can just wait. No rain is predicted for the coming week, and the temperature on Thanksgiving Day, this coming Thursday, is predicted to be in the mid- to upper 60s in ºF (about 18 ºC). That'll be perfect weather for raking up leaves and carrying them out to the vegetable garden plot as mulch.
So what did I cook yesterday? Dessert. A pastry concoction that's called a flan pâtissier. It's not like a Mexican flan, which is called a crème caramel in France. It's more like a custard tart or a chess pie.
The cream custard is thickened with cornstarch and eggs, and flavored with a touch of vanilla. Cornstarch is an American term, I think, and it French it's called fécule de maïs or amidon de maïs and often goes by the best-known brand name, Maïzena. In the U.K., it might be called corn or maize flour.
Here's the recipe for the flan, which is a standard item in French pâtisseries (pastry shops). You often by it buy it by the slice (une part, deux parts, etc. de flan), and if you've ever spent much time in France you must know it. Okay, here are two recipes, actually, if you want to make your own crust.
1 pre-cooked pie crust
1 liter of crème fraîche liquide (heavy cream)
150 g sugar (⅔ cup)
100 g cornstarch (1 scant cup)
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Mix the cornstarch into ¾ cup of cold cream, stirring well. Bring the rest of the cream to a simmer in a large saucepan. Stir in the vanilla extract.
Separately, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add in the cold cream and cornstarch mixture. Then gradually pour in the hot cream, stirring constantly. Be careful not to add it too fast because you might curdle the eggs.
Pour the egg and cream mixture back into the saucepan and set it on low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until it's well thickened and close to starting to boil.
Line a pie pan with the crust. Pour in the thickened custard mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes at 325ºF (160ºC). Keep an eye on the flan for the last 10 minutes of cooking to make sure it doesn't get too brown on top. Serve cold.
I thought the flan would be good with a crust called pâte sablée, which might be described as a cookie-dough crust, rather than with a standard pie crust ("shortcrust" or pâte brisée). Here's the recipe I followed.
250 g of flour (2 cups)
130 g sugar (4 or 5 fl. oz.)
100 g butter (7 Tbsp.)
1 pinch salt
First, melt the butter and let it cool slightly.
Next, stir the sugar and egg together. Add a pinch of salt and stir in the flour (I used a stand mixer). Finally, pour in the melted butter and mix well to form a smooth dough.
Put the ball of dough into a pie pan and spread it using your fingers to cover the bottom and sides of the dish. Prick the crust with a fork and bake it for 10 minutes at 375ºF (190ºC).
You could let this "sugar-crust" dough rest in the refrigerator for a while and then roll it out, but I think it's quicker and easier to press it into the pie plate using your hands. Patch as needed.