I belong to a micro-generation of people whose childhoods were blessed by one of humanity’s greatest achievements in the frozen novelty space: the Jell-O Pudding Pop. They were not “ice cream bars.” Though they shared many of the same ingredients, they had an entirely different texture, and unlike ice cream, they didn’t melt. They were incredible, and I miss them terribly every single summer. So for Memorial Day weekend, to kick off my first summer at The Takeout, I figured I’d make myself some pudding pops based on flan, because I really love flan. That’s how things go over here: My body tells me what recipes to write, and I follow orders.
This is a recipe that took a bit of testing to get right. While it’s relatively easy to make pudding pops (stick pudding in mold; freeze; eat), a flan pop is a bit trickier, as caramel doesn’t freeze. That’s because in order to solidify, water needs to turn into ice crystals that build upon each other like a brick wall, and if there are sugar molecules in between those crystals, that can’t happen. I figured that a teeny tiny bit of gelatin, which is also used to stabilize the custard, would help the caramel set up nicely. I took a cue from the flan recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, putting the custard into the molds first and then adding the caramel, so it could slowly sink to the bottom as it froze, creating rich ripples of burnt sweetness. However, once I unsheathed the first test batch, it became clear that my recipe would be plagued by one gigantic variable I had forgotten to consider: the shape of the ice pop molds I had bought.
Now, I am a sophisticated adult and I do not have my mind in the gutter, so the only thing I think when I see this flan pop is, “Wow, look at all that tasty pudding!” But, I can see how this flan pop could, let’s say, tickle some depraved filth-minded people the wrong way (or the right way, depending on how you look at it). I knew I had to rush back to the drawing board so I didn’t end up getting fired and/or arrested, but I also had to eat the first round of pudding pops so I could reuse the molds. And you know what? The flavor was remarkable! The burnt caramel
head tip wiggles and wobbles as you wrap your tongue around it, like a feisty worm trying to escape its fate. It makes you giggle for reasons that are entirely sensory and 100% mature!
If the flavor and texture of these flan pops already made me deliriously giddy, albeit by accident, then why bother reengineering it? I thought about buying a new set of ice pop molds that were a bit more boxy and a lot less wang-y, but I didn’t. There is nothing shameful about what these pudding pops look like. They already tasted amazing, and thanks to these mildly pornographic molds, they are delicious and whimsical. Who doesn’t need a little more whimsy in their lives?
I urge you all to have as much fun as possible with these flan pudding pops, whether it’s in the kitchen or in the comment section. And nowhere else.
Your yield will vary depending on the size of your molds. My molds hold 1/3 cup of liquid each, yielding 8 pops. Simply scale this recipe up as needed, with no change in procedure.
For the custard layer
- 1 tsp. powdered gelatin
- 1 Tbsp. cold water
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
- 1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
- 1/8 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the caramel layer
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 tsp. unflavored gelatin powder
- Teeny tiny pinch kosher salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. corn syrup
In a small cup, mix the gelatin with a tablespoon of water; set aside to bloom. Pour the evaporated milk and the salt into a medium saucepan and put it over medium heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, flour, and vanilla extract extremely well. When the milk steams, slowly whisk it into the yolk mixture, then pour it back into the saucepan, using a silicone spatula to make sure you get every last bit out of the bowl. Put the bloomed gelatin in the now empty bowl and place a fine wire strainer on top of the bowl.
Return the saucepan to the stove, turning the heat to high. Cook the custard while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to get into the corners of the pot, until it boils. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking while stirring for 1 full minute; the custard will be very thick, bubbling and popping like lava. Pour the custard into the wire strainer and use the back of the spoon to push it through, which will ensure it’s smooth. Scrape any custard on the bottom of the strainer into the bowl, then whisk the custard vigorously for about 2 minutes—this will dissolve and distribute the gelatin, and also help the custard cool faster. Put a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the surface of the custard and pop into the fridge for about 20 minutes, until barely warm, but not cold.
Whip the heavy cream to firm peaks. Fold in the custard, one third at a time, until well combined.
Mix the water with the powdered gelatin; set aside.
Cover the bottom of a small saucepan with a tablespoon or so of water—just enough to come up the side of the pan about 1/8". Using a fork, gently stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and salt until smooth and sandy. Put over high heat, and don’t touch it! Do not stir the pan at all, and do not leave its side. First you will see the mixture boil, and then, once the water has evaporated, the bubbles will start getting thicker and slower, until eventually you’ll see some areas starting to turn brown. Lift the saucepan a few inches off the stove and start gently swirling it around as the mixture begins to caramelize. A few seconds before the desired shade is reached (I like mine extra dark), hold the pot at arm’s length and pour in the water/gelatin mixture. It will bubble and steam violently, and will generally appear to be very scary! Do not fear. Turn off the stove, give the saucepan a minute or so to calm down a bit, then stir it well and set aside for 10 minutes to cool.
For a classic (yet highly questionable) flan-esque appearance, pour a bit of caramel into the bottom of your ice pop molds, then fill with vanilla custard, tap on the counter to remove air bubbles, and freeze. Alternatively, you can fill the molds halfway with custard, add a bit of caramel, then add custard until the mold is 90% full, then top the rest off with caramel. (As the pudding pops freeze, the caramel will sink and swirl itself into the custard.) Freeze for 2-4 hours until firm. To unmold: Put the ice pop molds into a bowl filled with hot tap water; after 30 seconds or so, your flan pudding pops should slide right out.