When I first came to America and ordered a “flan” for dessert at a restaurant I got a little shock when the waitress placed a molded, wobbly, sweet custard, delicacy in front of me. Not wanting to display my ignorance I ate it all up, and licked my lips. It was delicious, but not what I envisioned when I read the word ‘flan’.
I had a completely different notion in my head. You see, in Britain and Ireland, the term flan is used to describe an open pastry or sponge shell, filled with fruit and cream or some delicious savory filling.
Now that’s an Irish fruit flan. See how confused I was.
I love to make both kinds of flans now that I have lived in America for over twenty years. Today, let’s focus on the Irish sponge-cake version.
I like to use mandarin oranges and kiwis to decorate this cake, mimicking the colors of the Irish flag (perfect for St. Patrick’s Day or any other Irish celebration).
My mom always made a flan using her trusted sponge cake recipe. Here’s how she did it:
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3/4 cups cake flour (plus two tablespoons)
- 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Fruit to decorate (mandarin oranges and kiwis work great for Irish flag colors).
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees F, then prepare an 11-inch round fluted flan baking pan by spraying it with flour-infused oil.
If you don’t have this spray, just grease the pan thoroughly with soft butter and then dust it lightly with a coating of flour.
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before whipping them. Cold eggs do not hold as much air.
Use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar together until the egg mixture has thickened and turned a very pale yellow. This will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on how powerful your mixer is. You can always beat the eggs with a whisk but you will need a very strong arm, and plenty of patience, to thicken the eggs and incorporate enough air.
Sift the flour and baking powder together. Use a large spoon or spatula to fold one third of the flour into the egg mixture. Do not beat it with a mixer at this stage. Repeat with the rest of the flour in two more stages..
Make sure you lift the egg mixture from the bottom of the bowl, to fully incorporate the flour and to avoid pockets of trapped flour.
Pour the sponge mixture into the prepared flan dish. Use a spatula to spread it evenly.
Place the baking dish into the pre-heated oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. The center of the cake should feel spongy when lightly pressed (be careful not to burn your fingertips).
Let the cake rest for 2 minutes, before turning it out on a wire rack to cool.
Cool it completely before decorating. The sponge can be a little dry, so I use the juice from the mandarin oranges to moisten it. I avoid buying oranges that come in heavy syrup, since this is too sweet. Just drain the oranges, reserving the juice. Spoon it evenly over the sponge base.
Fill the shell with whipped cream that has been sweetened to taste with confectioner’s sugar.
Decorate with the mandarin oranges and kiwis or any other fruit assortment you may like.
Here is one I made using strawberries and blueberries for a patriotic look on the 4th of July. Since I did not have mandarin orange juice to moisten the base, I added a layer of jam beneath the cream.
Here is the printable recipe:
Hope you enjoy this little taste of Ireland.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom