If you ask what’s in it, the server at Ariete is going to tell you, and then you’re probably going to turn up your nose one of the best-tasting desserts in the city.
This happens every time a diner wants to know about the secret ingredient that makes chef Mike Beltran’s flan so different from all the other sweet flans you’ve had.
The ingredient is candy cap mushrooms.
Beltran was introduced to the mushroom by a friend and fellow chef, who used it in a dessert that Beltran couldn’t stop eating.
“I ate this ice cream sandwich and it was incredible. I was like, ‘I didn’t know why I love this so much, but I love it,’ ” Beltran said.
OK, Beltran finally asked, what’s in this?
His friend came back from the kitchen with a vacuum-sealed clear plastic package and dropped it in front of Beltran. He cut the bag open and there, sitting on the table in front of him, was a bag of dried, auburn-brown mushrooms.
“It blew my mind,” Beltran said.
They weren’t just any mushroom. Candy cap mushrooms are nature’s potpourri. Open a bag, as Beltran did recently at his Coconut Grove restaurant, and the room is suddenly redolent with the scent of fall. Maple injects the air with a mouthwatering aroma.
But get down into the mushrooms, bring a handful to your nose, and its rich, earthy scent is undeniable. It’s both sweet and pungent, a mushroom in a scented disguise.
To prepare the flan he lightly toasts the candy caps, pulverizes them, then adds them to the flan’s custard base (along with a touch of cream cheese for consistency) where their maple haze comes into full bloom. He strains out any pieces, leaving only the slightest flecks as trace evidence.
He serves it with sambuca crema (creme fraiche with sambuca liquor — “it’s boozy,” Beltran says) and a coffee crumble. The one-pound bag of mushrooms can cost as much as $315. So, yes, this flan costs a modest $6 given the amount of technique involved.
From the moment he learned about candy cap mushrooms, Beltran knew he wanted to incorporate them into his food one day. But when he opened Ariete just over three years ago, he promised himself he would never put a flan on the menu.
“It’s too easy. It’s a layup,” he said. “My abuela makes flan, your abuela makes flan. Everyone’s grandmother makes flan. My mom who can’t cook makes flan. We wanted to be different.”
Turns out mushroom flan was just different enough.