If you like piña coladas … and flan.
If you do, give your heartfelt thanks to Ramón López Irizarry, inventor of Coco Lopez, the magical, gooey cream of coconut that gives an authentic piña colada its taste and texture. Of late, some too-slick bartenders working in snazzy clubs have turned against the original recipe for the rum-spiked milkshake. They shun the Coco Lopez, substitute a few other coconut-derived ingredients, and try to pass the new drink off as a better piña colada. This is a disgrace. Coco Lopez birthed the piña colada. What would grow up to become Puerto Rico’s national drink did not exist prior to its invention.
Señor López-Irizarry’s cream also made desserts a whole lot easier. Coconut is a beloved flavor, but getting the coconut to part with its flesh can be so exhausting, you might wish you really preferred bananas. And you haven’t even turned it into cream as yet. So I stand here with all lovers of Puerto Rican desserts: We have benefitted from the sublime tinned cream. We are grateful. And when the time of the Great Piña Colada War comes, we will be ready.
While there is no sweet shortage in Puerto Rican fare, I believe in two main categories: things that are flan and everything else. The best thing about a flan is its unapologetic, straight-faced acceptance of all the wonderful things that make doctors cringe. Condensed milk, evaporated milk, sugar for caramel topping—and, if you want a coconut flavor, you’ll need coconut milk. I have nothing against being healthy. I do have something against an insipid diet. This recipe seems an obvious evolution. When it comes to the great existential questions of life and how you live it, I, like the flan, am unapologetic: I choose joy.
1 can (14 fluid ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can (12 fluid ounces) coconut milk
1/2 cup cream of coconut (very specifically, Coco Lopez cream of coconut. You are welcome to try others. You will be sad)
1 lime for zesting (get a nice, green medium to large lime. If you can circle the lime touching index finger to thumb, it’s too small. Get a bigger one—unless you have crazy monster hands)
No sugar (You are not making caramel sauce)
No flakes of coconut (this flan is practically a wobbling coconut already. It does not need a cape)
Set the oven to 400°F. Zest the whole lime. It’s worth it. When the flan is ready, the tiny tart bursts offer a gorgeous contrast.
Get out a bain-marie if you have one. If you don’t, make one. I use a giant lasagna dish and fill it halfway with water. As long as the pan the flan is baked in (8 inches or smaller) fits into something bigger that can hold water, all is well.
Whisk all the ingredients together, just enough so they really seem to merge. No need to get carried away with the whisking. We’re looking for a little air, not a meringue.
Pour the soon-to-be-flan into the baking dish. Make sure the flan dish is securely covered with foil if you’ve gone the DIY route with the baking apparatus. A real bain-marie takes care of itself.
Everything into the oven now. The water should hit the halfway mark on the flan dish. Bake for 45 minutes.
Remove, cool, refrigerate overnight for maximum flan-ness. If you are impatient, chill a few hours at least until cold. But really—try to wait.