Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Six Days in Austin, Six Different Flans

I can’t take credit for this blog post, since this was completely Lea’s idea. Our first night in Austin Charlotte took us to Guero’s Taco Bar on South Congress St. and after a delicious meal and multiple margaritas the three of us decided to split a flan for dessert. The flan was the perfect sweet ending to a satisfying meal and it got Lea and I even more excited to explore Austin’s gastronomic offerings. Already in the midst of a deep and passionate food romance with each other, Lea came up with the flan idea the next night during dinner.
“Let’s try a different flan every day and rate them for your blog,” she said. “It could be called six days in Austin, six different flans.”
Charlotte, our gracious host, announced that flan was in fact one of her all time favorite desserts, so finding a different one to eat everyday would be a mission she could get behind.
We decided we would base our assessments of each flan by rating their texture, flavor, syrup, and overall deliciousness. With the plan conceptualized and our objectives clear, we committed ourselves to the “flan project” for the remainder of our trip with extreme and unwavering diligence.
But what you may ask is exactly flan? According to wisegeeks.com “flan is baked custard quite similar to crème caramel, typically made with eggs, cream or milk, gelatin and vanilla. Often flan is synonymous with crème caramel because it includes a layer of burnt or caramelized sugar on the bottom.”
Flan is most popular in Latin America and the Philippines.
I also learned Sunday night that flans can be savory, made for example, with spinach.
Shockingly however, some people who we described this project to were less than enthusiastic.
“I hate flan,” one of Charlotte’s friends announced during a brief camping trip. “It’s so creamy.”
And some Texans we encountered (even those who were employed at well respected eateries) didn’t even know what it was we were inquiring about.
“What’s that?” one girl behind a bakery counter in Fredericksburg asked. “Yeah, no, we don’t make that.”
But we never let these comments deter us, and aside from Saturday when we were camping at Inks Lake, we managed to find a flan every day. Here they are, in chronological order.
Guero’s Taco Bar. This was our first flan, and since we ate it before the project officially commenced, it really served as the initial inspiration. After eating enchiladas, chalupas, tacos, bean and cheese tamales, chips and salsa, guacamole, and drinks (all served by our very handsome and attentive waiter) we still found room for this. The flan was thick with a slightly grainier consistency than most flan because, we realized after a few more bites, Guero’s uses coconut in the custard. This changed the consistency but also added a subtle dimension to the traditional caramel flavor of most flans which was lovely. It was also served with plenty of sugary syrup, making it delightfully moist and sweet. Amazingly, after this meal we managed to stumble over to the Continental Club to witness some of the Fat Tuesday celebrations. Exhausted and sated, we collapsed back at Charlotte’s apartment and slept heavily.
Trudy’s. Charlotte had to get up and spend the day on campus, so Lea and I were left to our own devices for most of the day. We had a wonderful time leisurely strolling down Guadalupe St. and admittedly it turned into a little bit of an unexpected shopping spree. Having stretched our budget for the day from ahem, some impulsive spending, and with the awareness that Charlotte had had a taxing day in the competitive and cut throat world of academia, we decided to make dinner for Charlotte at home. It was over a delicious pasta dish Lea whipped up that the flan project was really born, and so it became essential that after digesting dinner we journey out to find another flan. We ended up at Trudy’s and indulged ourselves in Palomas, a delicious drink made with lime juice, tequila, and Fresca, and two orders of flan. This flan paled in comparison to Guero’s, but did have a silky smooth texture which made each bite soft and light. The flavor lacked depth, although the top was dusted with some cinnamon which warmed it up and made it a little more interesting. We also decided it would have been nice to have a little more of the caramel syrup- unlike other flans there was no leftover syrup to spoon up at the end. On our drive home we speculated if Trudy’s flan was in fact, made from a box. (Photo #4)
Central Market. Charlotte suggested that we should try a flan from Central Market which is an upscale grocery store nearby. We had to buy groceries for our camping trip that weekend anyway, so this seemed like the logical choice. When the three of us scanned the bakery case however, there was not a flan in sight. When we asked the woman behind the counter if they had any, say tucked away in the back, she said no, they did not.
“Do you ever have it,” one of us asked. “Like, maybe sometimes?”
“No, never.”
Disappointed, we were considering our options when it occurred to me that occasionally there are pre made flans in the pudding section of many grocery stores. The pudding section at Central Market came through for us and we walked out with two flans to taste; Kozy Shack flan, and a “Spanish Flan,” in a small round container. When we got home we flipped them onto plates, passed out the spoons, and I readied myself with a notebook and pen, ready to take notes. The “Spanish Flan” (photo #3) was surprising thick and creamy, with an amazingly smooth texture. The flavor was also very strong, which made sense after we read that the fourth ingredient was rum. The Kozy Shack flan (photo #2)was much lighter with less flavor than the Spanish flan, and reminded me more of a caramel Jell-O. Good but not great.
We then spent the night salsa dancing...
Mamacitas Mexican Restaurant. Friday we packed up the rental car and headed out of Austin to Fredericksburg, a funny German town about an hour and a half away, in the middle of Texas “wine country” (I know, who knew). We hiked Enchanted Rock that afternoon, and then feasted on authentic German cuisine at Der Linderbaum restaurant. Noting the fact that Fredericksburg was a predominantly German town, we realized that finding a flan may be more challenging here than in Austin. But we found one not far from downtown, at Mamacitas. This flan was made in one big dish, and sliced into wedges, as oppose to the individual flans we had been tasting that came in individual ramekins. Mamacitas’ flan was luxuriously creamy, with lots of caramel flavor and lots of syrup. Out of all the flans we tasted, Mamacitas’ was the most old school, traditional, caramel flan.
Saturday we drove to Inks Lake to camp with several of Charlotte’s friends from UT. No flan, although we did eat delicious mushroom risotto made on the Coleman stove, grilled vegetables, sausages, s’mores, whisky, wine purchased from our previous day in “wine country,” and lots and lots of snacks.
La Condesa. Sunday was our final night in Austin, and after taking the afternoon to recuperate from 1). hiking, 2). driving, and 3). the consumption of multiple tacos from Tacodeli, we decided to hit the town for drinks, flan, and some two-stepping. La Condesa is a newly opened restaurant in downtown Austin that Charlotte had been wanting to try, and they did have an intriguing "flan de camote," or sweet potato flan. The restaurant itself has a wonderful atmosphere (excellent place to take a date, Charlotte noted), and an impressive menu (although we limited ourselves to chips and guacamole, and a pitcher of margaritas). The flan de camote was delicious but was not the traditional flan that we had been searching for to rate. The consistency and flavor was much more like pumpkin pie and while I love pumpkin pie, Lea and I just didn’t feel comfortable calling this flan, flan. The papitas and candied sweet potatoes that garnished the flan were wonderful too, but again, not authentic. (Photo #1)
The Official Results of the Flan Project:
#1 Guero’s
#2 Mamacitas
#3Spanish Flan
#4 Trudy’s
#5 La Condesa
#6 Kozy Shack
I am now back home and enjoying the residual glow of a truly wonderful vacation, which was full of wonderful friends, good food, and worthwhile adventures. This week I also want to make a flan of my own from scratch, the results which I will assess and add to the line up (unbiased of course.)


  1. So glad you are back. Missed your bog. Make the flan on a Sunday, so I can try it. Good luck this week!! Aunt Stephanie

  2. Sophia, you write wicked good. Peter

  3. yippee! vacation in a blog post.

  4. Of COURSE Charlotte's fav. dessert is flan....one of my side projects is mapping her bizzaro tastebuds.
    Flan. Marked down.

    Sigh...your trip looks wonderful

  5. this is such a fun idea and a great blog post!

  6. You should have tried Abuelo's flan, tops Guero's flan without a doubt..