Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Caramel Flan (Creme Caramel)

Difficulty level: medium
Time consuming: not actively, but bake time can take as long as 75 minutes, plus it will need to refrigerate overnight before you can eat it.
Flan, also known as creme caramel, is a Latin American style custard that has a creamy, velvety texture with a layer of soft caramel on top (unlike a creme brulee which is a custard with a layer of cruncy caramel on top). There are several varieties, but I think my Aunt Lili's recipe is the best. And I have been craving it for MONTHS!

 I finally made it when my husband and I were visiting my parents last week. This flan is amazingly good and super easy to make. I try to only make it when theres a crowd (or at least more than me and the hubs) or else I will eat it all. My aunt is Cuban, and in my opinion this makes her an expert on Latin American dessert, and therefore her recipe is superior to all others :)

Put sugar in a 9x9" baking dish. Put this dish on the burner of a stove on medium heat. As soon as the sugar begins to brown and bubble, stir continoulsy until all the sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook until the sugar has a dark amber color and is completely liquid. If it begins to smoke, STOP! Set the pan aside to cool.

In a blender, combine a can of sweetened condensed milk, a can of evaporated milk, regular milk (any percentage, I use skim), eggs, sugar, and vanilla. My blender was filled to the brim. Put on the lid, hold tight, and blend to combine the ingredients. You can taste the mixture and add more sugar if you'd like it sweeter, but I find that it's not necessary. Pour through a fine wire mesh sieve into the pan with the caramelized sugar. Cover tightly with foil.

Place a larger pan (like a roasting pan) in the oven, then place the foil covered 9x9 pan into the larger. Create a hot water bath by running the hottest tap water possible (but not boiling) and filling the roasting pan until the water reaches about half to two-thirds up the 9x9 dish. Bake for 50-70 minutes (mine took 75 minutes). You'll know it's done when you take it out of the oven, peel back the foil, and jiggle the pan - the outside edges should be set and the middle should wiggle just a little, like Jell-O. DO NOT OVERBAKE THE FLAN!! It will have a tougher texture with bubbles in it when you finally get to slice into it to enjoy (it will still taste fab, though). Let it sit out at room temperature for a bit, then refrigerate overnight.

Now it gets complicated. First (and most importantly), run a knife around the edge of your pan. Using another (larger) baking pan or sheet pan (with edges), flip the flan by putting the sheet pan on top, holding tight, and flipping 180 degrees. Don't hesitate when you do this, one quick, smooth movement is best. There is tons of delicious caramel sauce that will run out and if you flip too slowly it will make quite the mess. Mine flipped pretty sloppily and the flan broke, but if you flip better than me your custard will look beautiful.  Remember that sugar you caramelized in step one? It cooked into the flan and created the caramel sauce. (*Note, the caramel sauce will not be thick). Cut and serve with caramel sauce spooned over top.

 Look! My flan had no bubbles and the most delicate and silky texture. This makes a great dessert. Or breakfast. Or snack. And the nice thing about this recipe is that it's pretty forgiving. You can use low fat ingredients or whole-fat ingredients without drastic changes to taste. You can use 5 eggs instead of 6 if after you've already started and you look in the fridge and find only 5 eggs. You can also bake in an 8x8 pan if you don't have a 9x9" one (or if after you've started you realized you grabbed the wrong pan), just make sure the hot water bath goes a little higher (but NOT into the flan) or you risk overbaking the edges of the flan - this also flips nicely into a 9x9" pan preserving all that delicious caramel sauce.


1 cup white sugar and 3/8 cup white sugar
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
14 oz milk (whole, low fat, whatevs)
6 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a 9x9" baking pan, caramelize 1 cup of sugar (melt the sugar until it is liquid and brown). Set the pan asize and let it cool. Be careful!
3. In a blender (or large bowl using a hand mixer), combine all 3 milks, eggs, 3/8 cup sugar, and vanilla, then blend. Take a small taste and add more sugar if desired.
4. Pour through a fine wire mesh sieve over the hardened caramelized sugar in the baking pan. Cover with aluminum foil.
5. Put the 9x9" pan inside a larger rectangular pan (like a roasting pan). Add the hottest tap water to the larger pan so that it comes halfway (or so) up the sides of the 9" pan (this is the hot water bath).
6. Carefully place the pan in the oven and bake 50-70 minutes, until the edges are set and the middle only jiggles a little.
7. Remove the 9x9" pan from the oven and let cool for 20-30 minutes. Refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably over night. (Wait for the roasting pan to cool, then remove from the oven to avoid accidently spilling hot water on yourself)
8. When ready to seve, invert the baking pan onto a serving platter with sides. Let the liquified caramel sugar run down onto the flan. Enjoy!


  1. Wow! This looks delicious! I can't wait to give it a try.

  2. OK, I made this and I must admit that cooking the sugar in the pan was a bit scary. The sugar got all clumpy even though I stirred it; I didn't think that it was ever going to carmelize. But once it started to liquefy, I knew it would be OK. I would suggest, though, to cook the sugar to a medium golden color rather than a dark amber color; I did that and it tasted slightly burnt. Other than that, the flan was delicious. Turning it out of the pan wasn't as tricky as I thought it would be either.

  3. Medium golden is fine, just so long as the sugar does not smoke. Glad that it turned out great for you!