There is no truth to the rumor that Prof Vic is known as Torres the Terror to his students. In fact he's a sweetheart. Or at least, we know he must be partly made of sugar -- local, not imported. Today he shares his leche flan recipe.
Leche flan is a dessert I always love to cook. This is a recipe that my mother taught me using a bit of a shortcut method. The original recipe called for three eggs only and sometimes included the white of one of the eggs as a “binder.” However, the white leaves the custard looking like Swiss cheese so I shifted to using egg yolks only. Friends and family who had tasted it said it was better. I don't use grated dayap rind (although some say it gives the leche flan a bit of a bite) But then again, to each his own taste.
Modern technology has brought the steamer and the rice cooker to the kitchen which made cooking leche flan easier. If there's no steamer or rice cooker, I use a large deep pot in which I place an upside down ceramic or metal bowl inside to put the llanera on then pour in a glass or two of water. However, this takes a longer time to cook and one has to guard the pot constantly to prevent the water from totally evaporating.
Unfortunately, the two best brands of condensed milk in the market (Alaska and Carnation) seems to have cut costs and their product only comes out in small cans now. But I still use the medium-sized cans (300 ml, I think it was) of different brands of condensed milk and, so far, the taste was not affected.
By the way, don't ask me what I do with the egg whites. Never did figured out what to do with it. I am not in the middle of building a house or church anyway so there's no mortar to mix it with.
Get a llanera then put in a couple of tablespoons of white sugar. Caramelize the sugar over low flame. Be careful not to burn the sugar or it will taste bitter. (Burnt sugar in leche flan is yucky.) Remove from flame and pour in egg and milk mixture before the caramel stiffens. Place llanera in steamer. If you are using a rice cooker steamer, use the measuring cup of the rice cooker to pour a cup and half of water inside the pot. Steam until a knife inserted in the custard comes out clean.
Loosen leche flan from llanera with a knife then turnover on a serving dish. Enjoy.
Vic's consternation over what to do with the remaining egg whites, notwithstanding, I couldn't resist reproducing this article I wrote for the inquirer.net, two years ago. However to those who do want something to do with the egg whites, I will be adding in a recipe soon for blitz torte, a merienda cake I learned from Mrs. Ruth Guingona, former Second Lady of this Republic.
An Omelet Heritage
A country without a memory, is a country of madmen. -- George Santayana
If all uninformed tour guides are to be believed, our churches are held together with cement and egg white like the confections they are. In my former life as NCCA’s legal conservationist, I’ve had some side-ripping tourist moments as some enthusiastic guide with more guesswork than research attempted to explain their history factoids with gossip and superstition.
Philippine churches are primary tourism targets and a booming industry surrounds them. Unlike many of their European counter-parts, these churches remain in use, and are thus showcases of continuing history. Over thirty of them have been declared national cultural treasures and World Heritage Sites.
Because of renewed interest in these structures, the informality of accreditation systems for tour guides (not to mention the downright politics of some of their appointments) and too few sources of information on the histories of both the locales and structures, too many have taken up occupations as “tour guides” using savvy business sense and not much else. The result is a disastrous mish mash of misinformation that often bewilders the educated and damages the uninformed.
Lime plasters were mixed with various materials, according to the Philippine expert on ecclesiastical heritage, Ricky Jose, among them crushed shells, sand, lime, water, animal blood and yes, in some instances, duck eggs. National Museum restoration engineer Orlando Abinion adds that animal manure was also used in some instances. It is the duck eggs that perhaps led to the belief that egg whites were used.
Jose however says that the records are unclear on whether the whole duck egg or just its egg white was mixed in with the plaster. While there is no clear correlation between the building of the churches and delicacies made of egg yolk such as yema, tocino del cielo and leche flan, it’s certainly a tantalizing idea. This is not enough, however, to say that all churches are built of adobe and egg whites.
In fact, not all churches were built of adobe. Their locations usually determined the material to be used. Churches in Manila and some from the Southern Tagalog regions were made of adobe, which can still be sourced in these areas, the best of which still comes from Bulacan. When the Intramuros walls were being restored in the 1970s, new blocks of adobe were cut to fill in portions of the walls that had been removed. To ensure authenticity, the stone masons were trained to cut the adobe stone in the same manner as the original stone of the walls were cut.
However, if we must insist that our churches were built with eggs, the records say that the dome of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the former parish of the Intramuros now better known as the Manila Cathedral, was sealed in 1780 with a mixture of lime, powdered brick, duck eggs and bamboo sap, again according to Ricky Jose. Two hundred duck eggs are also said to have to have been used on a convento in Imus.
As far as old churches go in various places in the country, I hear many local tour guides who love to boast that their church is the oldest in the Philippines. However, if the church is not located in Intramuros, then it’s not likely to be true. According to curator of the San Agustin church museum, Father Pedro Galende, OJA, two churches were built at the time Miguel Lopez de Legazpi occupied the area that was Raja Matanda’s former fort, now known as the Intramuros.
These two churches were San Agustin and what is now the Manila Cathedral. The original church of San Agustin, made of wood and nipa, was built in 1571. The structure burned down in 1574 after the raids directed by the pirate Lima Hong. The structure that was rebuilt also burned down in 1583, when the draperies caught fire during the wake of Governador Ganzalvo Ronquillo. After the structure burned down again in 1586, the Agustinian provincial met with his council and they passed a resolution ordering the building of a stone church.
This stone church, whose construction began in 1591 was finished in 1607, is the same structure standing in
Intramuros today. It was declared a World Heritage Site and acknowledged as the oldest church in the country.
This bit of history notwithstanding, the funniest tour guide comment I have ever had the privilege to hear is this nugget from a Northern Luzon guide: “Our church is the oldest church in the entire country. Even before the Spaniards came, it was already there.”