Now that the holidays are upon us, I have decided to set aside the desserts I make year after year in favor of some experimentation.  Over the years, I have made thousands of flavored chocolate truffles, frequently flavoring them with tea.  I’ve done this by heating up cream, putting loose-leaf tea in it, letting it brew for five minutes covered, straining it, and then cooling it down to room temperature.  My epiphany was that I could play with the flavor of any dessert that had milk, cream, or water by adding tea.  It doesn’t change the chemical makeup of the recipe, but adds an exciting twist to a tired dessert.

For Thanksgiving this year, I took my mom’s extremely easy and super-creamy flan recipe and added loose-leaf tea to flavor the milk.  I made Chai Pumpkin Flan and Earl Grey Grand Marnier Flan.  They were fantastic.  The tea was subtle, but definitely present in every bite.  The flans tasted more sophisticated and complex than the original recipe.

I am now completely inspired, bursting with ideas for different sweet concoctions to make this year.  Peach Oolong Crème Brûlée, Green Tea Cheesecake, Mint Tea Chocolate Pudding, Earl Grey Bread Pudding, Chai Gingerbread, or Meyer Lemon Cake with Lavender Tea Frosting.  The possibilities are endless.

Earl Grey Grand Marnier or Chai Pumpkin Flan

1-3/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons loose-leaf tea

3/4 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons water, liqueur, or any alcohol (rum, brandy, etc.)

3 eggs
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
*1/4 cup pumpkin puree (for chai version)

1.  Place milk in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Heat until the milk starts steaming and simmering, but hasn’t come to a complete boil.  Remove from the heat and add the tea.  Cover and let stand for five minutes.  Strain the milk and let it cool to room temperature.

2.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

3.  In a medium sauce pan, combine sugar and water and place over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves.  Continue cooking, swirling the pan occasionally, until the liquid is a light golden brown.  Pour quickly into a one-quart mold and spread the caramel evenly over the bottom.

4.  In blender or food processor, combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour over the caramel.  Place the flan pan in a large baking pan.  Add enough boiling water to the baking pan that it comes halfway up the sides of the flan pan.

5.  Bake – in center of oven – 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool, upright on a rack, to room temperature.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill four hours or up to two days.  Run a knife along the inside edge of the pan.  Place the serving dish face down over the pan and invert to release the flan.  Serves 6.