This is a rich old-fashioned flan. My friend Marta recalls that, when she was a child in the 1950s, the fresh milk delivered to her family’s home, in Piñar del Rio, had heavy cream floating on the top. Her grandmother’s cook Josefa, who was known for her desserts, always mixed the cream into the milk when making flan.
The only challenging step in making a flan is caramelizing the mold. Experienced Cuban cooks often melt the sugar directly over the burner in the metal mold. I prefer to make caramel in a saucepan and then pour it into the mold. Even with good oven mitts, the mold gets very hot to handle. It is easier to hold a saucepan by the handle and stir the sugar until it melts and turns the desired amber color. If the caramel hardens when you are using a metal mold, place it over low heat to melt the caramel, then tilt it to evenly coat the bottom and sides. If using a porcelain mold, place it in a microwave at low power for 20 to 30 seconds.
Make the caramel: Place the sugar in a medium-sized heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts and turns a light amber color, 10 to 15 minutes.
Make the custard:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks, whole eggs, sugar, and salt until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow.
Pour the half-and-half into a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick, lime zest, and vanilla bean (if using vanilla extract, add it later). Bring the half-and-half just to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let the half-and-half steep for a few minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick and lime zest. Slit the vanilla bean down one side with a sharp knife and scrape the pulp of the bean into the half-and-half (or add the vanilla extract, if using). Stir in the rum, if using.
Gradually beat the hot half-and-half mixture into the egg mixture. Pour the custard through a strainer into the mold and place the mold in a larger baking pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the mold.
Lower the oven temperature to 325°F. and
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