I have found that Mexican cuisine is quite amenable to modifying to low carb lifestyles if you are willing to forego the tortillas. The proteins, vegetables, beans, avocados, cheeses, peppers and Mescal or Tequilas are all great choices on a low carb, slow carb or ketogenic type of diet. Desserts are more problematic of course, as they are in most cuisines. This Low Carb Mexican Flan (Orange Flan De Queso) was creamy and scrumptious, with the only sugar coming from the fructose in a small amount of fresh orange.
Using Sugar Substitutes in a Low Carb Mexican Flan
If you steer clear of the Mexican desserts that use sweetened condensed milk and the higher sugar fruits, there are actually quite a few desserts that can be modified to low carb without a loss of flavor and texture (low carb Mexican flan being one of them)
I’ve recently been trying out desserts that highlight cheese, dark chocolate or berries and then using sugar substitutes to add the sweetness. Over the next month I hope to work in paletas (fruit popsicles) and some inspired gelatins (how do strawberry margarita jelly shots sound?).
While I recommend avoiding the artificial sugar substitutes, there are some natural substitutes that don’t contain chemicals and are not likely to cause blood sugar spikes. This would include xylitol, erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit extract. Truvia, Swerve and a few other brands are blends of these substitutes.
Working with natural sugar substitutes can still be a bit tricky however. A couple of things to watch for are:
- there are some sugar substitutes that will spike blood sugar more than others
- some baked goods and desserts work better with granulated sugar substitutes, some work better with liquid substitutes, and some work best with a combination
- they do have different tastes, with some imparting a bitter taste if not masked by other spices or flavorings
- The texture of sauces (in this case the caramel sauce) can be challenging to get right
My favorite sugar substitute as far as taste goes is Truvia (a mix of erythritol and stevia), but I think I might try liquid Stevia alone next time I make this Low Carb Mexican Flan. While it tasted wonderful (really quite awesome to tell the truth), the Truvia did result in a “crunchy” caramel on the outside rather than a more flowing caramel you would get with regular pure cane sugar. This is because it crystalized a bit. I didn’t mind the crunch at all and it was a rather nice contrast to the creaminess of the flan, but it isn’t what you would expect when you think of an authentic Flan De Queso.
One way to prevent the crystallization is to use less Truvia. You would lose some of the sweetness that way but that may be preferable to you. Further experimentation with amounts and kinds of sugar substitutes will be necessary. Darn! I guess I’ll have to do some more flans!
At any rate, this recipe for Low Carb Mexican Flan held up in flavor to a recent tasting of Mexican flans in some of the better restaurants over a recent vacation to Santa Fe, New Mexico so I am posting it for your pleasure.
The bulletproof.com blog offers an infographic on baking with sugar substitutes that looks interesting. I haven’t used it so I can’t vouch for it, but I’m assuming they have tested it out. Click here for the infographic.
Natural Sugar Substitutes vs. Artificial Sugar Substitutes:
There is quite a bit of confusion over some of the qualities of sugar substitutes. Erythritol is currently one of the more popular sugar substitutes due to taste and it is important to note that even though the name sounds like a chemical it is a “sugar alcohol” which is different from an artificial sugar substitute. While sugar alcohols do contain fewer calories than sugar, they occur naturally in plants, like fruits and vegetables. Erythritol and Stevia is the blend in Truvia, which is what I used for the Low Carb Mexican Flan.
- Fermented – it is made by fermenting the natural sugar found in corn.
- Heat stable up to 160 degrees C.
- Non-caloric – While most sugar alcohols are low-calorie, erythritol has zero calories.
- Non-glycemic – Does not raise blood sugar – erythritol is considered suitable for people with diabetes because it does not raise plasma glucose or insulin levels.
- The easiest sugar alcohol to digest – more than 90% of erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine, so minimal amounts reach the colon where other sugar alcohols end up causing diarrhea and other symptoms.
- Noncarcinogenic– studies have shown that erythritol, like xylitol, does not have carcinogenic properties.
- An antioxidant – erythritol helps to fight free radicals, responsible for the aging process. It is considered to be even more efficient than other sugar alcohols because it is so readily absorbed and yet not metabolized (it is excreted unchanged).
- Erythritol has the status of generally recognized as safe (GRAS) from the FDA and is widely used in many other countries like Japan, the European Union, Mexico and Canada.
If you want a little more in-depth information on sugar and some alternatives click here.
Low Carb Mexican Flan
- 3/4 cup Truvia divided into 1/2 cup portion and 1/4 cup portion
- 1/2 tsp molasses
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tsp vanilla divided
- 8 oz full fat cream cheese room temperature
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 5 large eggs room temperature
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 3 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1.5 tsp orange zest
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Grease an 8 or 9 inch cake pan or 4-6 ramekins (the number will depend on their size. You want to fill them 3/4 of the way full). Set cake pan or ramekins in a 13×9-inch baking pan.
- Heat 1/2 cup Truvia, molasses, water, butter, and 1 tsp vanilla over medium-low heat until Truvia dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until syrup turns amber, about 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on the sweetener, as it can quickly go from amber to burned.
- Quickly pour the caramel into the ramekins or cake pan. Be very careful to not touch or taste the caramel. It is very, very hot and will burn you!
- In a food processor, blend the cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs, sea salt,
1/4 cup Truvia, 1 tsp of vanilla, 3 Tbsp fresh orange juice and orange zest
until it becomes a smooth batter.
- Pour the cream cheese batter over the caramel.
- Add hot water into the larger pan, around the ramekins or cake pan, making sure not to get water in the flan batter. The hot water should come up the sides of the cake pan about an inch deep so that the cake pan or ramekins will be sitting in a water bath.
- Bake for 1 hour and remove from oven and let the flan cool in the water bath. Once it is cool to the touch, refrigerate for a 3-4 hours or overnight.
- When you are ready to serve the flan, run a knife around the edges of
the flan to loosen it up. Place a larger serving plate over the flan and
then flip upside down to invert. If it doesn’t easily fall onto the
plate, try loosening it up again with the knife and tapping the bottom of cake
pan while inverted onto the plate.When you lift off the ramekin the caramel syrup will run over the flan. Garnish with orange peels or orange zest.
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