As someone with several degrees in Anthropology, I would say I have a strong respect for tradition. Cultural, societal or religious, I can see how a traditions originate and why people take such comfort in them. Traditions are what bind us to our past, what make us feel connected in a large and sometimes inhospitable world, and what give us guidance for acceptable behaviour. Although not a religious person myself, I know I rely on many traditions, family and cultural, to help me order my world and connect with my family and loved ones. I love our holiday traditions, our family traditions, and many of the traditions of Western society. And I am infinitely fascinated by the traditions of other cultures, both the differences and similarities. Tradition is a great many things to a great many people, and it is a large part in what makes us human; our reliance on the structure of tradition and passing traditions on to future generations.
But when it comes to food, I can’t say I am really a traditionalist. Oh sure, I love my Thanksgiving turkey, and we always to do a big rib roast on Christmas, but other than that, I tend to break from tradition. I love to shake things up, try out new recipes, tweak old ones, and basically never make anything the same way twice. And let’s face it, low carb cooking and baking is anything but traditional. You have to experiment, you have to use unusual ingredients and you have to come up with work-arounds for flour and sugar. It’s a constant state of non-tradition. I know low carb bloggers making french toast out of eggplant, oatmeal out of cauliflower and apple crisp out of squash. To quote the legendary Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, we are just wild and crazy guys. We are taking tradition and standing it on its head. The funny part is, we are often trying to makeover some of our favourite traditional foods into things we can eat and enjoy and not have to worry about the carbs. We are non-traditional traditionalists.
So when attempting a traditional dessert like flan, I have to think outside the box. This recipe was a request from Ivonne on the All Day I Dream About Food Facebook page a while back and as I’d already considered attempting flan, I was definitely up for the challenge. My biggest concern was that traditional flan is made with sweetened condensed milk, but I blew that little obstacle into smithereens when I made my own low carb sweetened condensed milk a few weeks back. Obstacle number two, however, presented a bit more of a problem. Traditional flan is a little like creme caramel, where sugar is caramelized and then put into the bottom of the ramekin, so that when it is inverted onto the plate, a delicious caramel sauce covers the top and sides of the custard. Mmmmkay, now how do I replicate that caramel sauce without sugar? I’ve made some pretty amazing things with erythritol, but although it caramelizes admirably, it downright refuses to stay in solution. That means that as it cools, it re-crystallizes and forms a hard crust. Not exactly what I wanted for my non-traditional traditional flan.
Xylitol is not my go-to sweetener because it’s a little harder on the digestive system (and is fatal to dogs, if you have any), but I always keep some around because it has its uses. I thought that maybe, just maybe, this was one of its potential uses. I have some xylitol-based maple syrup and figures that perhaps xylitol stayed in solution better than erythritol and that I could use it to make a caramel sauce that stayed liquid. Here, however, is where I completely broke with tradition. I decided to make the custard and the caramel sauce separately and simply pour the caramel sauce over the flan after it was cooked. I know, I know, complete sacrilege for the flan traditionalist, but hear me out. Knowing what I know about sugar alcohols, I simply couldn’t trust even the xylitol to stay liquid after being cooked and cooled. I had visions of having the whole thing stick stubbornly to the bottom of my ramekins. In which case I would be stuck with a gloppy, albeit tasty, custard mess.
So, there you have it. Non-traditional traditional flan, caramel sauce sold separately. And may I just say, it was amazing and I don’t regret breaking from tradition for a second!