What’s easy to make, direct in flavor, pleasurable on the tongue, and comforting? My answer: Flan Thé, otherwise known as a baked custard flavored with tea. Comprised of just four ingredients– whole milk, eggs, sugar and tea—this dessert provides a deliciously blank canvas upon which you can imprint your favorite tea, particularly one with a distinctive personality which will come through in the finished dessert and one that works well with milk. I would steer clear here of smoky teas such as Lapsang Souchong, for instance; they pair better with chocolate. But then again, taste is subjective and how you like to take your tea (with or without dairy, sweetened or not) probably differs from tea lover to tea lover. I would lean toward malty Assams, south Indian or Sri Lankan teas here. Note that this is a flan without its traditional bottom layer of caramelized sugar; therefore, it’s not meant to be unmolded before serving as the standard flan is.
Equipment and preparation are minimal but you will have to summon patience three times during this process: first, to allow the tea to infuse into the milk before proceeding; secondly, allow enough time for cooking to be sure that the custard is set slowly and evenly (put your feet up and have a cuppa during this time, perhaps); and finally, chilling the finished custards until cold before serving. (It’s convenient and best to prepare these the day before you wish to serve them to allow overnight refrigeration.)
A good fine-meshed sieve, individual ramekins or molds, about 4 ounce-capacity each, and a roasting pan or some other vessel that will hold enough water to come about halfway up the sides of the molds during baking are all you will need.
Here are the particulars to make 4 servings.
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 T. premium quality loose leaf tea (Assam, Nilgiri or Sri Lankan teas would be my preference)
2 large whole eggs (approximately 2 ounces each, removed from shell)
1/2 c. granulated sugar (approximately 3.5 ounces) (fine bakers’ sugar works best here)
Heat the milk to a simmer. Add the tea and continue to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the tea to infuse for about 15 minutes. Taste the milk to be sure that the flavor of the tea is discernible. The milk should be pale tan in color. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. (Note that the tea leaves will absorb some of the milk during the infusion but pressing firmly on them will help to extract as much flavor as possible.) Discard the tea leaves.
In a clean saucepan, bring the sieved milk to a boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, using a whisk beat the eggs and sugar together until the mixture lightens in color. The sugar should have almost dissolved. Gradually add the hot milk into the egg and sugar mixture, stirring but not aerating, using a wooden spoon or heatproof silicone spatula. Pour the mixture into a tall measuring cup.
Heat a pot of water to just under boiling. Position the oven rack halfway up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 325° F.
Place the ramekins or molds into a vessel large enough to hold them and one that will hold enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the molds.
Carefully place the pan with the ramekins in it onto the oven rack. Divide custard mixture evenly among the four molds. Carefully pour the hot water into the pan filling it just enough so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the molds. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. (Baking time can vary, but when done, the custards should jiggle slightly; they should not be watery or flowing.) Once done, leaving the baking vessel on the oven rack, using oven mitts or a dry towel, carefully remove the molds from the hot water. Now remove the baking vessel from the oven and discard the hot water. Allow the custards to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until cold.
Serving suggestions: A platter of segments of seasonal citrus fruit such as blood oranges, tangerines, or clementines would be a nice though optional accompaniment. A crisp thin cookie would also complement the creamy custard. What to drink? You guessed it, a steaming cup of well brewed tea.