Make the flan
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300°F.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and 3 Tbs. water. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium high and boil, without stirring, until beginning to turn golden-brown on the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Gently swirl the pan over the heat until the caramel is dark amber, another 1 to 2 minutes.
Immediately divide the hot caramel among six 6-oz. ramekins, swirling each one to cover the bottom. Arrange the ramekins in a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.
Set a fine strainer over a 1-quart liquid measure or bowl.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, salt, and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the evaporated and sweetened condensed milks, and mix on low speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until well blended, about 2 minutes.
Add the eggs yolks, whole eggs, and vanilla and mix on low speed until well blended. Add the lime juice and mix until incorporated.
Pour the mixture through the strainer, then divide it evenly among the ramekins (about 1/2 cup each).
Pour very hot water into the baking pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins (be careful not to splash water into the ramekins). Tightly cover the pan with foil and bake until just the centers jiggle slightly when a ramekin is gently shaken, 30 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the baking pan to a rack. Uncover and let the flans cool completely in the water bath, about 2 hours. Remove the ramekins from the water, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Make the meringue
Up to 2 hours before serving, bring 1/2 inch of water to a simmer over medium heat in a pot that will hold the bowl of a stand mixer without letting it touch the water. Reduce the heat to low. Off the heat, put the egg whites in the bowl and gently stir with a balloon whisk to loosen. Gradually whisk in the sugar.
Put the bowl over the simmering water and whisk until the whites are very warm and the sugar is thoroughly dissolved (when you rub the whites between your fingertips, you should feel no grit), 2 to 4 minutes.
Transfer the bowl to the stand mixer and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Add the cream of tartar and beat on low speed until well combined. Gradually increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites form thick, glossy, medium-firm peaks, 3 to 5 minutes.
Holding a ramekin upright and slightly tilted in one hand, hit the side with the heel of the other hand; this breaks the vacuum and should create a small gap between the flan and the ramekin. Immediately invert the flan onto a small plate, holding the ramekin and plate together and shaking as necessary to get the flan to release. Scrape any liquid caramel from the ramekin over the flan.
Spoon the meringue on the flans and swirl decoratively. Toast the meringue with a torch, if you like. Serve right away or keep at cool room temperature for up to 1 hour.
Make Ahead Tips
The baked flans can be refrigerated in their ramekins (wrapped in plastic) for up to 2 days.
The flans can be unmolded and topped with meringue up to 1 hour before serving.
Serve with tropical fruits such as mango, passionfruit, or pineapple, if you like.
nutrition information (per serving):
17, Fat Calories
150, Saturated Fat
11, Monounsaturated Fat
65, Polyunsaturated Fat
Photo: Scott Phillips