In my defense, have had NO problem making creme caramel, using the Craig Claiborne recipe from the New York Times Cookbook, hundreds of times. However, am making a Mexican meal this weekend, and decided to use the Vanilla Caramel Flan recipe out of Cantina, The best of Casual Mexican cooking, by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Miliken.
I put the requisite cup and a half of sugar and cup of water in a nonstick pan and stirred and simmered, and stirred and simmered, for what seemed an eternity, and eventually ended up with a bubbling, sodden mass of lumpy gray sugar, with the water boiled out. Tried to melt that mess and it got worse, to the point I feared for the coating on my pan! Eventually the sugar started to melt but into clumps of sugar lumps mixed in with rapidly darkening "caramel" so I decided since this recipe seemed to WANT water in it, the best thing to do would be to add some boiling water. BIG MISTAKE! Roiling, snarling, burning, spattering mess, some of which landed on my finger, am typing this note with one hand while the other hand resides in a bowl of ice water. The recipe called for pouring this caramel into ramekins, then letting it sit a little and pouring it back into the pan and adding milk. I decided NO! I poured this mess down the disposal, unburned fingers crossed as I did it, and reverted to Craig's tried and true recipe: just put sugar in pan and heat until it caramelizes - NO LIQUIDS!
Also decided to go with Craig on scalding milk and cream, and with his cooking temperature and time after deciding my Mexican cookbook recipe wasn't getting the custard cooked, too low heat, too short a time. Hope it turns out OK.
What on earth did I do wrong?