This traditional Mexican cake earned its infamous name from the magic trick that happens in the oven while it’s baking, but it is far from impossible. When you layer the flan and cake batters into the molds, you pour the cake batter first then the flan on top. It looks like a total mess, but in the oven they switch places and the chocolaty cake batter ends up on top. Impossible? No, magic! It tastes magical too. Rich chocolate cake layered with creamy flan and liquid cajeta creates a confectionary masterpiece. Though it can also be made in a large round or bundt pan, I find it much more festive and easy, to make personal sized Chocoflans. They are perfect for an elegant dinner party or for an afternoon snack and are small enough you couldn’ t possibly be expected to share. —Pati Jinich
12 individual, 4-ounce chocoflans
Unsalted butter, at room temperature for buttering the molds
cajeta, or dulce de leche
stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
large egg, at room temperature
Pinch of kosher or coarse sea salt
12-ounce can evaporated milk
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
coarsely chopped pecans, lightly toasted, to garnish
Butter 12 4-ounce ramekins, then drizzle 1 to 11/2 tablespoons cajeta on the bottom of each mold. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
To prepare the cake batter, in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until soft and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue beating until fluffy, 2 more minutes. Add the egg and beat until well blended.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Turn the mixer to low and beat half of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk into the butter-sugar mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly mixed. Repeat with the remaining half of the flour mixture and the buttermilk, continuing to beat until thoroughly mixed and fluffy. Set aside.
To make the flan, mix the evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender. Puree until smooth and thoroughly combined. Alternately, whip together vigorously in a large bowl with a wire whisk. Set aside.
Spoon a couple heaping tablespoons of cake batter into each ramekin, filling them only 2/3 full and distributing the batter evenly among them. Gently, pour the flan mixture on top of the cake batter, filling the ramekins to just below the edge. At this point, the contents of the ramekins will look rather messy, with bits of the cake batter floating in the flan mixture. Don’t worry; it is fine.
Place the ramekins in a large pan or baking dish at least 11/2 inches deep. Pour hot water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and seal tightly.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the surface of the cakes feels solid and a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Carefully open the aluminum foil to check, as the steam from the pan will be very hot.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and remove the aluminum foil. When cool enough to handle, remove the ramekins from the water bath (I use a pair of sturdy tongs) and let cool completely on a wire rack. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.
When ready to eat, remove the flans from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. The flans won’t look their most beautiful before you unmold them, but don’t worry! They will after you do. Run the tip of a knife around the edge of the ramekin, place an inverted plate on top, and flip. Give the flan a few seconds to drop onto the plate; or, with both hands, hold the mold as you give it a nice shake. Remove the ramekin, let the cajeta drizzle on top and garnish chopped pecans.
I forgo my job in the Washington DC policy research world to research, test, taste, cook, write, teach and talk about Mexican food. Not only because of nostalgia and desire to connect to my roots, but because I love sharing all I learn and I am fascinated by Mexico cuisine's richness and depth.