Mom made this over the holidays and it was the yummiest flan I think I've had. Someone brought up that they like most of the homemade flans they've had, but never a store-bought flan. Everyone agreed, and I do too! Why such a dramatic difference? Homemade flans, like this one, can be perfectly balanced and delicious. Everyone store or restaurant flan I've had has tasted and chewed like rubber goo.
2 1/2 c sugar
3 c whole milk, or 2 c whole milk plus 1 c heavy cream
2 strips lemon zest
1/8 t salt
6 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 t vanilla
Make caramel: Pour 1 c sugar and 2 T water into a saucepan, preferably one that is white or light-colored inside. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, swirling the pan to combine the sugar and water. Do not stir. Let boil until deep amber in color, swirling the pan occasionally to caramelize evenly, about 10 minutes total. Watch the pan carefully after the mixture starts turning golden; it will quickly become light brown, then amber, then dark amber. Immediately pour caramel into a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. Set aside to harden.
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
In a saucepan or microwavable bowl or pitcher, combine milk, zest, salt, and remaining 1 1/2 c sugar. Over low heat or in microwave, heat through, stirring to melt the sugar. Set aside.
In a blender or using a hand blender in a pitcher, combine eggs, yolks, and vanilla. Blend till smooth.
Remove the lemon zest strips from the milk. With the blender running, gradually pour the milk into the eggs. Go very slowly at first so the eggs don't cook from the heat of the milk. (Or you could fridge the milk). Blend until just smooth. Pour into the caramel-lined pan.
Place a 9 x 13 pan in the lower third of oven. Carefully place the loaf pan inside it. Pour hot tap water into the baking dish until it comes about halfway up the sides of the pan. (Don't worry about the oven losing heat).
Bake 55-65 minutes, until set but still jiggly in the center. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack for 30 minutes. Refrigerate, uncovered, until cold and firm, at least 8 hours or up to 3 days. The caramel will soften as it sits.
To unmold, run a thin sharp knife around the edges. Center a flat-bottomed platter with a rim on top of the pan, and, holding both, carefully flip. "The flan will fall onto the plate with a squelch"; lift off the pan and let the caramel run all over the top. If the flan doesn't come out, flip it back over and rest the bottom of the pan on a hot wet kitchen towel for a few minutes, to melt the caramel.