One of my favorite Christmas scents is alcohol breath at midnight Mass. It’s almost tradition for grownups to show up lit up. Consider this. If one sits down to Christmas Eve dinner at 7:00pm and the meal is concluded at, say, 8:30pm…well, there’s quite a bit of time to get into trouble before sliding into your pew to hear a few carols before the service begins. We started our tradition years ago. And when I say “we” I mean Pamela, my little sister, and me. Mama would have a Puerto Rican Christmas Eve dinner with many of the typical dishes shipped to us in dry ice. Remember, Mama didn’t cook. After a rich, heavy dinner we had to move so Pamela and I took off and met our friends at Mai Kai, a famous Polynesian restaurant and bar here in town known for their island dancers and rum drinks. It was great when Jimmy and I started dating because then we had a driver. The three of us would have two or three barrels of rum, (that was the name of the drink….lethal), and at 11:30 the three of us would stumble out of the bar and Jimmy would drive to church where Mama would be waiting for us.
Midnight Mass was always packed, standing room only, with all dressed in their holiday finery. If we had a cold snap a few furs would be seen. As we maneuvered through the crowd waving at friends and the parents of friends, our eyes scanned our beautiful church searching for Mom. And then, suddenly, there she was soaking in the exquisite music of the choir. The moment we laid eyes on her the ruckus began. We thought we were whispering but apparently not. “Mama! MAH-MUH!! I love you, Mama.” Her mouth set in an angry line she’d make room for us in the pew. By the time Mass ended we’d pretty much be forgiven but then Pamela always, always had to do cartwheels on the church’s front lawn. Boy, did we catch heck all the way home. “Your father and I have a name in this town! Are you trying to ruin us? Alicia, what are you thinking? You’re supposed to set an example for your sister, caramba!” Pamela and I laugh about it now but only because we truly believe Mama’s enjoying celestial, angelic music in Heaven. Though we miss Mom so much we ache, we do wish her a merry, merry Christmas!
One of the few dishes Mama made herself for Christmas Eve was flan. It was a traditional flan, the flavored ones had not yet begun to appear. This flan is silky smooth, redolent with the flavor of coconut and the more subtle notes of cream cheese. What I really enjoy about it is it never has that “eggy” taste many flans have. And since only coconut cream and milk are used there are no little flecks of grated coconut meat floating around in your mouth. Bleah. Most recipes call for a 10″ cake or round pan. I used an 8″ round cake pan with 4″ tall sides. If you use a pan smaller than 10″ make certain the sides are 4″-5″ tall. This dish needs to be made in advance, yay!, in order to set and chill. I’ve made it 2 days before serving and it’s perfection. It is like nothing you’ve ever tasted. My friend, Andrea, said it should be made illegal. Or at least made every Christmas Eve!
Coconut Cream Cheese Flan
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 3 cups cream of coconut
- 1 13.66-ounce can coconut milk
- 10 large eggs
- Preheat oven to 325°.
- In a medium size pot pour the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Do not stir! When it turns caramel in color pour into waiting baking pan. Immediately rotate the pan so the caramel completely covers the bottom of the pan. The caramel hardens quickly so move fast. Set pan aside.
- Place cream cheese in a large bowl and using a hand mixer beat until fluffy.
- Add the cream of coconut to the cream cheese and mix well.
- Add the coconut milk to the cream cheese mixture and beat well until all ingredients are well incorporated. Set aside.
- In a medium size bowl break the eggs and, using a hand whisk, gently beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are thoroughly mixed. You want to minimize the air bubbles so don’t use a hand mixer or blender.
- Pour the eggs into the cream cheese mixture and using the hand whisk blend well.
- Pour the cream cheese and egg mixture into the baking dish and place the filled baking dish into a larger baking pan, for instance a casserole dish.
- Heat some water to the boiling point and carefully pour the water into the larger baking pan or casserole dish. The water should reach 3/4 of the way up the sides of the flan pan. In other words, you’re making a bain Marie.
- If using a 10″ pan bake for 1 hour or until the middle of the flan is “jiggly”. For a taller 8″ pan bake for 2 hours.
- Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
- Cover with plastic wrap directly onto flan and chill overnight up to 2 days.
- Right before serving remove plastic wrap, run a knife around the edge of the flan, cover the flan with your serving platter and quickly invert. The flan should slide right out onto your platter. If not, gently tap the platter on your counter or carefully shake the inverted pan. Once a little air gets around the flan it’ll come right out with the melted caramel syrup.
- Spoon a bit of syrup over every slice prior to serving.