This Classic Flan is a silky smooth, classic version of this traditional Latin American dessert. This caramel-topped custard is gently cooked in the oven until it’s firm to the touch.
My history with this dish hasn’t always been a love affair. I grew up eating it, reluctantly. When we’d go to restaurants there was always someone in our family ordering and LOVING it. It just was never for me. I’d always try it over and over hoping to fall in love and it never happened. What can I say? I grew up. My tastes changed and now I can’t get enough. I think it’s one of the most magical desserts ever so I couldn’t be more excited for us to be discussing this Latin-American favorite!
What Is Flan?
Let’s talk about basics! Flan is a gently cooked custard with a clear glaze of caramel on its top. I like it when the caramel has been cooked until it’s an auburn brown, the texture of the custard is silky smooth and when I can really taste a hint of vanilla. Where is it from? Well, its origins begin in Spain and through colonization, has traveled to South America, Central America, Mexico and the Philippines. In the Philippines it’s often referred to as crème caramel.
What Are the Main Ingredients to Make Classic Flan?
- Granulated sugar. The 1/2 cup of sugar transforms into a thin layer of caramel that will live on the top.
- Large whole eggs. Whole eggs thicken this entire mixture the egg proteins unwind, and trap in the milk or cream into a soft gel.
- Egg yolks. They contribute to giving this custard a lovely rich quality.
- Kosher salt. You cannot make sweet things without salt. It adds so much balance, even if it doesn’t taste “salty.”
- Sweetened condensed milk. This adds as our sweetener for the custard as well as giving it a luscious texture.
- Evaporated milk. This type of milk is super popular in Latin American desserts because it gives a very strong flavored milk flavor. I love it!
- Vanilla. Who doesn’t love vanilla. It truly makes all desserts a little bit better.
How to Make Flan
- Make the caramel top. My favorite way to make caramel is the fool-proof way which is with water. I’ve had success of just cooking sugar all by itself but other times it gives me trouble. I like that doing it with water makes it SO easy. Yes, it takes longer. But eventually it’s nice and even and smooth. It requires a cup sugar and 1/3 cup of water. That’s it!
- Pour the caramel into the baking dish or pan. This process goes FAST! So be diligent. Have everything prepped before hand. Working quickly, pour it in the baking pan and move it around until it’s a nice even layer. It will quickly harden and be room temperature. As a result, you’ll have a lovely smooth layer of caramel on top.
- Make the milk mixture. I do this in a blender and it could not be simpler. Add everything to the blender and pulse it up!
- Pour the filling over the hardened caramel. If there are any bubbles on top, you can get rid of them with a blow torch. Or just leave them–no biggie!
- Transfer it to the water bath. The water bath is essential to baking it evenly (see below for more of an explanation).
- Bake it. I like to bake the custard at 325 F (a lot of recipes set the oven to 350). I feel like that’s too hot. It needs to be “low and slow.”
- Cool completely. This is a really important part because it really sets the dish and big note: flan tastes better when it’s cold.
- Remove it. This can be a nerve-wrecking part, but I believe in you! I like to run a paring knife along the outside of the custard, place a plate over it and invert it. I like to give the bottom side of the cake pan a few smacks. And then, I say a prayer, and lift up the cake pan, hoping it’s all in one piece. Bonus: it always is.
Why Is a Water Bath Important When Making Flan?
A water bath (also known as a bain marie), provides an even temperature as it bakes in the oven. Usually how things bake, they cook from the outside in. With flan (or any other type of custards), we want to cook things slowly and evenly. Cooking them in a water bath really helps with achieving this.
The biggest challenge is not eating the stuff warm, straight out of the oven. It’s imperative that they have time to chill on the counter. And super important that they have time to chill in the fridge overnight.
The next afternoon or evening, you’ll take them out, run a knife along the sides, plate them up and watch all the caramel ooze out the sides. So good!
Classic Flan Recipe
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup water
- Pinch kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 1/2 of a vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.
- Prepare a water bath of some kind. You can make this flan in a variety of vessels. You can use a 8-inch cake pan, 9-inch cake pan or (six) 3-inch ramekins. I used a 9-inch cake pan and a turkey roasting pan.
To Make the Custard Base:
- In a blender, add the eggs, egg yolks, salt, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and/or vanilla. Blend until very smooth, about 30 seconds. You don’t want to get it too frothy so try to avoid over blending. If you do over blend it, let it settle a bit so the bubbles can disappear. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, set over medium-low heat, add the sugar and water. Cook on medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved into the water completely. Then, turn the heat to high and allow to cook for about 5 full minutes, until the cooked sugar goes from clear to light golden brown. At this point, lower the heat slightly and keep cooking until it turns a golden brown.
- Immediately pour it into the baking pan and twist it around until it’s in an even layer on the bottom.
- Give the custard base a stir, just to make sure it’s still all combined. Pour it on top of the solid caramel. Cover with foil tightly. Transfer the flan to the water bath and fill up the water bath with water from a kettle.
- Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, until slightly jiggly but still firm. Carefully remove it (it'll be hot!) from the oven and set aside.
- Allow to cool on the counter for about 30 minutes and then transfer to the fridge to chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge and then invert onto a large plate. Smack the top of the pan to loosen the flan and then lift up the cake pan. Slice it up and serve.
If you make this Classic Flan, let me know on Instagram!
Looking for more Latin Dessert Recipes? Here are some of my favorites: