A silky flan strikes me as just the right, light finale for a candlelit dinner for two. This one, with ricotta, is the love child of crème caramel and cheesecake. I have made it often, following the recipe in A Fresh Taste of Italy by Michele Scicolone.
I know some people don’t like to deface their cookbooks, but mine are riddled with notes in the margins and penciled adjustments to timings or measurements. Often my comments are curt and negative: “didn’t work” or “too sweet” or “less oil.” Alongside this recipe is a single word with an extra helping of exclamation points: “Fabulous!!”
Michele is a New York City-based food writer and the author of more than 20 cookbooks, most of them dedicated to Italian foodways. I spoke to her recently about the ricotta brand she prefers and learned that we have at least one thing in common. We both adore Calabro, the cow’s milk ricotta from Connecticut. My local Whole Foods usually has the hand-packed version, mounded in a perforated tin like ice cream in a cone. It’s sublime. The version packed in a plastic tub has the same sweet flavor, but it’s not as fluffy.
Michele says her flan was inspired by a recipe she saw years ago in an Italian food magazine. I love that it doesn’t involve pastry or deep frying, elements of most southern Italian ricotta desserts.
A Fresh Taste of Italy was published in 1997, “when we were all into eating low-fat,” says Michele. (I skipped that phase.) She recalls testing the recipe with low-fat and nonfat ricotta. “Sometimes it turned out very grainy and dry, not pleasant at all,” says the author. My advice: don’t do it. Use a whole-milk ricotta for best texture and flavor. It’s dessert after all.
Caramel Ricotta Pudding
Budino di Ricotta
From A Fresh Taste of Italy by Michele Scicolone (Broadway Books). The custards can be baked and refrigerated for up to 3 days before serving. The cups will be easy to clean if you soak them in water for a few hours.
- 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 container (15 ounces) or 2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. When the mixture begins to boil, stop stirring and cook until the syrup starts to brown around the edges. Then gently swirl the pan over the heat until the syrup is an even golden brown. Immediately pour the caramel into six 6-ounce custard cups. Protect your hand with an oven mitt and swirl the cups to coat the bottom with the caramel. Let cool briefly.
In a food processor or blender or using an electric mixer, beat the ricotta for 5 minutes or until very smooth. Blend in the eggs, milk, remaining sugar and vanilla. Pour into the cups. Place the cups in a roasting pan or Pyrex baking dish. Pour hot water into the pan to reach about halfway up the side of the cups. Place in the oven. Bake until the tops are set but the centers are still soft and jiggly when the cups are tapped, about 50 minutes.
Place the cups on a rack to cool slightly. Cover the cups and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, run a small knife around the pudding and invert onto serving plates. Some caramel may stick to the bottom of the cups, but there will still be plenty pooling around the custards.