A simple apple flan, or kids in the kitchen

How do you teach your children to not only cook, but to enjoy cooking, to use the kitchen creatively? Do you leave it to interaction: all in together ‘helping’ to chop and whisk and smash eggs etc? Or to osmosis: smells, and tastes, and admiring great results? Or do you leave them to it, handing over the sharp knife to cut the vegetables and fruit and tiny fingers?

There are no books on the topic, so I’ve gone with a touch of the lot. They love helping, especially when the machines are running; they love tasting, especially when sugar is prominent; and they love chopping.

So I got them chopping apples and pears to be stewed with a little sugar, and hit on a winner. Even a baboon can cook an apple and/or pear, and make it something flash (I know, because that’s where I started learning) which makes it a perfect starting point for teaching the kids some tricks in the kitchen. It’s a lot like tossing a handful of radish seeds into the garden and watching the almost instant results. From little radish seed tossers do big gardeners grow.

So we peeled, and cored, and sliced, and tossed, and came up with something which works hot as a dessert, cold as a snack, and best of all, as a vital component of play lunch. ‘Dad,’ said the chip off the old block. ‘It’s beautiful.’


200g plain flour

25g sugar

pinch of salt

125g butter, not hard, not soft

1 egg, whisked lightly

enough cold water to bind


75g sugar

juice of 1 lemon

1kg tart apples (Granny Smiths, or Jonathans in season), peeled, cored, and quartered

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon — This is optional. If you want a brown flan with a spicy flavour, use the cinnamon. If you want a lemony, sharp, whitish flan, leave it out.


Mix the flour, sugar and salt, then work the butter with your fingers into the flour until it forms large ‘crumbs’.


Work in the egg, using a fork, until it breaks up, then add the water little by little until the mixture forms a solid mass. If it’s too sticky, mix in a little more flour.


Flatten, rather than leave as a ball, and refrigerate, lightly flouring the pastry top and bottom.


Work the sugar, lemon juice and fruit together, and cook, covered, in the microwave for about 15 minutes on medium (high in a 500 watt machine) until the fruit is quite soft and has given out a deal of moisture. This can easily be done on top of the stove, but it’s easier in the microwave — you don’t have to watch it.


Puree in a whizzer, adding the cinnamon through the spout. The mix should be light-brown and firm although still liquid, as lava is liquid.


Put back in the microwave and cook for another 5 minutes. Again, this can be done on top of the stove — the idea is to remove a little of the excess moisture. Set aside to cool.


Roll out the pastry and fill a flan dish (27 cm x 20 cm), with a removable edge. Refrigerate again for 30 minutes.


Prick the pastry all over to stop it bubbling and bake ‘blind’, pastry covered with aluminium foil, for 20 minutes, at 190°C. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.


Remove and spoon in the apple mix, smoothing it to the edges.


Bake for another 15 minutes and serve warm with cream or ice cream; or let cool and refrigerate for a dish of another sort.


When it’s cold, the apple puree will set well enough to allow you to cut it into bite-size pieces. Serve with tea, sprinkled with a little icing sugar, just for style.


You can make exactly the same dish of apples and pears 50–50; or quinces all on their own.

WINE: Apple flan has the delicacy to go with most dessert wines. If you can find it, or afford it, look for a German Auslese with about six years bottle age. If not, there is a lot of good Australian riesling auslese styles. Try Orlando, WolfBlass or Mitchelton.