If you spend any time on Pinterest or Instagram food searches, and who that hangs out here does not, I bet at least once in the last couple years, your Explore tab led you to the photogenic, decadent world of chocoflans. If not, let this post fix your suggestions right now. Chocoflans, sometimes called impossible flan (pastel imposible), are one part flan (a sweetened egg custard with caramel or dulce de leche) and one part plush chocolate cake. They’re considered a bit magical, not only because they combine two of the most wonderful desserts in the world, but because of what happens in the oven. Even though it goes into the oven with the cake batter in first and the flan in second, as it bakes, the batters flip. Once you invert it out of the baking pan, you end up with the flan on top and the cake underneath. I’ve read that this is because the cake, as it rises in the oven, becomes lighter than the flan layer, so the flan sinks and I, a non-scientist, based on little more than liking the sound of it, have concluded that it makes total sense.
I had never never made one before this week because I was sure I’d mess it up in some way — I don’t have a great track record with flans, or bundts, and water baths are a level of fiddly I am happy to leave to the people with patience for them — but when I saw this one in Esteban Castillo’s first cookbook, Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen, I suddenly felt the confidence to make it. Maybe it’s the specificity of calling for “Diamond Crystal kosher salt” in them, and not just “salt” (because good recipe writers know that no two salts are the same), the inclusion of weights and other details that suggest he really pays attention to grit of recipe development, or the simplicity of a reverse-creamed cake, but it imbued with me with confidence and the proof is in the… chocoflan. It’s perfect.
A little more about the book: Chicano Eats is a vibrant cookbook that celebrates Mexican cuisine from a Mexican-American lens. Despite its cheerful appearance, it doesn’t skip the biographical and historical stories that, for me, makes a cookbook worth curling up with. Castillo talks about growing up going back and forth in his early years between California and Colima, Mexico, where his parents are from, and also Cuyutlán, a beach town on the Pacific coast, where he has family too. He talks about his parents’ enchantment with the American dream, but that achieving was, at times, a distant reality as they struggled to find enough work to succeed. Food wasn’t just nourishment, but his mother’s family’s livelihood. They mined sea salt, made cheese, had a taco cart, cooked for parties, and even have a makeshift restaurant in their backyard. When he moved from the Los Angeles area to Northern California for school, he was far from real Mexican food and missed homecooked meals, and discovered, to his delight, that he could make chiles rellenos just because he’d watched his mom make them so many times, even though her instructions were just “add a little of this and that” (something familiar to so many of us). He prefers to write his recipes down for future generations, and we, the reader, reap the benefits, as well as the arroz rojo, mole, juicy and crisp carnitas, chicken with soft masa dumplings, shrimp in garlic sauce, paletas, raspados, horchata, and aqua frescas.
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One year ago: Zucchini Quesadillas
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Five years ago: Takeout-Style Sesame Noodles with Cucumber
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Thirteen years ago: Red Pepper Soup and Cherry Clafoutis
Dulce de Leche Chocoflan
- 1 13.4-ounce (380-gram) can La Lechera dulce de leche or 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) prepared dulce de leche (see directions at end)
- 1 12-ounce (354-ml) can evaporated milk
- 4 ounces (115 grams) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 5 large eggs
- 1 1/3 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond is specified but you’ll be fine with any here)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) brewed coffee, cooled
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Dulce de leche, chopped nuts, whipped cream, and/or ground cinnamon
For serving (optional)
Make the flan: In a blender, combine the dulce de leche, evaporated milk, cream cheese, vanilla extract, and salt and blend until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds. Pour in the eggs and blend for another 10 seconds until smooth.
Make the chocolate cake: Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon directly into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or a large bowl for use with an electric handmixer. Mix on the lowest setting until just combined, then add the softened butter and continue mixing on low speed until the mixture resembles wet sand. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
In a liquid measuring cup, combine the coffee, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla extract, then slowly pour it into the flour-butter mixture with the mixer running on low. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the mixture on high for a full minute.
Bake chocoflan: Liberally coat a 10-cup (2.5 liter) Bundt pan with cooking spray. [I’m using this one.] Add the cake batter, smoothing out the top with an offset spatula or spoon. Carefully ladle in the flan so you disturb the cake batter as little as possible. Transfer the Bundt pan to a roasting pan or baking dish large enough to fit the Bundt pan. Grease a piece of foil and place it greased side down onto the Bundt pan, folding it over the edges to loosely seal it. Transfer to the oven, then pour water (from the tap is fine) into the roasting pan or baking dish to come up 2 to 3 inches.
Bake for 2 hours to 2 hours 15 minutes, checking for doneness after 1 hour 45 minutes, using a skewer inserted into the cake to make sure it’s baked through, with little to no crumbs sticking to the skewer when you pull it out.
Carefully remove the Bundt pan from the roasting pan and let it cool to room temperature before placing it in the fridge to cool completely, at least a couple of hours.
To serve: Once you’re ready to serve, carefully run a knife around any edges that are still sticking, then invert onto a serving platter, gently shaking it up and down if it’s being difficult. If desired, serve with dulce de leche and a sprinkle of chopped nuts or with whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
To make dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk: I could not find a can of dulce at the grocery store so I needed to make my own for this recipe; give yourself time if you need to do this too. Even though you only need one can of dulce, and the volume will be the same as the volume of a can of sweetened condensed milk, you lose some volume when you make it, so I recommend making two cans worth. You’ll definitely have extra — it makes a little over 2 cups. You won’t regret it.
Pour the contents of 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk into a pie or medium casserole dish, and cover snugly with foil. Set plate in a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to pan to reach halfway up the smaller dish. Bake in a 425°F oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until it takes on a caramelized color. Set aside until cool, then whisk until smooth. For this recipe, you’ll need to measure 1 1/2 cups from the dulce de leche you’ve made. Save the rest for serving (a few flakes of salt will really liven it up). It will keep for weeks in the fridge, if not longer; rewarm in the microwave for 20 seconds, then stir, adding more time if needed.
To make dulce de leche fully from scratch (milk and sugar, no sweetened condensed milk): The Smitten Kitchen has you covered!