Arroz con Leche Flan

I combined two of my favorite Latin sweets into one perfect, elegant dessert for this week’s recipe. Arroz con Leche Flan brings together the flavors of creamy cinnamon and citrus-flavored arroz con leche (the Puerto Rican style rice pudding I grew up eating) and luscious caramel-topped flan.

Though I wish I could say I came up with the brilliant idea of making rice pudding flan all by myself, rice flan is actually a recipe that originated in Catalonia, located in the northeastern part of Spain. Rice is a central part of Catalonian cuisine, so it’s natural that it would show up in their desserts as well.

What is Basmati Rice?
To make my version of this dessert, you start off by making a simple rice pudding flavored with cinnamon sticks and thick strips of orange zest.

As this recipe is part of my ongoing sponsored collaboration with Carolina® rice, I opted to feature Carolina Basmati Rice for this recipe. Basmati rice is a type of long-grain rice most commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Persian cooking. It’s lovely and naturally fragrant, and works beautifully in this rich, custardy dessert.

(Speaking of my Carolina Rice collaboration: if you haven’t seen them yet, you should also check out the incredible chorizo and manchego risotto I made last month, or the cinnamon-scented Mexican horchata ice cream I shared earlier in the summer. I teamed up with Carolina rice to share monthly recipes using their many varieties of rice and I have so many other fun rice recipes coming your way throughout the rest of the year!)

Once the pudding is ready, you mix in some additional cream, eggs and a few other good things, and the whole gorgeous mix gets baked into a caramel-coated pan just until set.

How to Make Caramel for Flan
Now about that caramel!

I know making caramel can be a little bit nerve-wracking for some people, but I promise that the way I do it is the easiest and quickest way. You literally only need sugar and heat. I’ve been making caramel like this since I was about 12 or 13 and first trying my hand out at homemade flan, so I know you can do it.

Most recipes instruct you to mix water in with the sugar, then bring it to a boil, and stand over it for about 10 minutes brushing down the sides until the sugar has caramelized. This is definitely one way to do it, but I personally think it takes too long and includes an unnecessary step. There is no need to add water. Part of the caramelization process is the evaporation of the natural water that’s in the sugar, so by adding more to it, you’re simply extending the process.

Making caramel really only takes about a minute if you use my preferred dry method. All you have to do is add the sugar to a heavy-bottomed pan (I use a good quality stainless steel saucepan for this) and place it over medium heat. In about 10 to 20 seconds, the sugar will start to melt at the edges, at which point you can start swirling the pan by the handle. Don’t use a spoon or place anything in the sugar; just keep swirling the pan around like you would a glass of wine. The sugar will look a little dry and clumpy at first, but keep going and you’ll notice it start to melt more and more until it’s all melted.

Let it go a little longer until the color starts to deepen into something resembling maple syrup or a very dark honey. It’ll smell toasty and… well… caramel-like! And just like that, it will be ready!

Immediately pour this into your pan, swirl the pan, and you’re done. This entire process should take less than 5 minutes. (The water method can take as much as 15 just to get that caramel!)

And all the above is so worth it because that caramel is what MAKES this dish. It will mix with the rice, creating a gorgeous, toasty caramelized rice topping and a dark, sophisticated caramel sauce that will run over the sides of the delicate flan.

It’s gorgeous, and I know you’ll love it!

Loved this recipe? Here are three other Easy Rice Desserts you might enjoy:

Arroz con Leche Flan Recipe
Makes 1 9-inch flan (about 8 servings)

1 cup Carolina® Basmati Rice
4 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cinnamon sticks
3 thick strips orange zest
2 cups heavy cream
4 large eggs + 3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Wrap the outside of a 9” round springform pan with aluminum foil and set aside. Fill a large roasting pan with 3 quarts water and place in heating oven.

Combine rice and 3 cups water in a large, heavy-bottom saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer 15 minutes. Drain rice, then return to saucepan with the whole milk, cinnamon sticks, 1/2 half cup of the sugar, and orange zest. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer 30 minutes or until the milk has absorbed. Remove the cinnamon sticks and orange zest.

While the rice simmers, make the caramel. Place the remaining one cup of sugar in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Swirl the pan continuously as the sugar begins to melt. Keep swirling (do not stir) until all the sugar has melted and started to caramelize into a deep, golden honey color. Remove from heat and immediately pour caramel into the prepped springform pan, swirling the pan around until the caramel coats the entire bottom and partially up the sides.

Combine the 2 cups heavy cream, eggs, egg yolks, tablespoon of vanilla extract, and salt and blend 2 minutes or until frothy and evenly combined. Pour into the cooked rice mixture and stir to combine, then pour into the caramel-coated pan.

Place the pan in the roasting pan that is in the oven. The water should reach about 3/4 up the sides of the pan. If necessary, pour in a bit more hot water from the tap.

Bake 1 hour and 45 minutes, then remove from the water bath. Let cool on counter, then transfer to refrigerator in cake pan and chill at least 4 hours or overnight

To serve, dip the pan into a roasting pan or other large dish filled with very hot water and let sit for 20 minutes. Then remove pan from water, remove the foil, run a knife around the edges. Place a platter over the cake pan and invert. Remove the sides of the springform pan, then the bottom. Scrape off any rice or caramel that has stuck to pan and pour it over the flan. 

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