Flan is a rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. It looks fancy, but it’s actually quite simple to make.
Reading: recipe caremel flan sauce
Michael and I had dinner recently at a traditional Brazilian steakhouse or churrascaria. While the open fire-roasted meat was delicious, the flan we shared for dessert was our favorite part of the meal. Flan, also known as crème caramel, is a rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. It’s similar to the French custard dessert, crème brûlée, only it is a bit denser and, instead of the brittle caramel top, the caramel is liquid.
Flan is one of those desserts that looks intimidating to make, but it’s actually quite simple. The key is to bake the flan in a water bath, which regulates the temperature and evenly distributes gentle heat around the flan, ensuring that the eggs don’t curdle.
To recreate a Brazilian flan at home, I tried at least a half-dozen recipes. This classic Latin flan adapted from Cook’s Illustrated was my favorite. It’s prepared in a loaf pan rather than a wide cake pan, so it’s easy to unmold without breaking. And since it’s made up to four days ahead of time, it’s the perfect dessert for company.
What You’ll Need to Make Caramel Flan
To make this Latin-style flan, you’ll need three different types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk. If you don’t have whole milk, you can substitute 2% or half-and-half, but skim is not recommended. The splash of bourbon is my addition to the recipe — it adds nice depth of flavor — but if you’d like to omit it, simply increase the vanilla by two teaspoons.
Since the recipe calls for 2 whole eggs and 5 egg yolks, you’ll have lots of leftover egg whites. If you’re looking for easy and delicious ways to use them up, check out my forgotten kisses (chocolate chip meringue cookies) and coconut macaroons.
Step 1: Make the caramel
Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup water together in a medium saucepan until the sugar is completely moistened. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, without stirring. Continue cooking until the mixture begins to turn golden.
Gently swirling the pan, continue to cook until sugar is a pale honey color.
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Remove from the heat and swirl the pan until the sugar is a reddish-amber color and fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds.
Carefully swirl in 2 tablespoons of warm tap water until incorporated – be careful as the mixture will bubble and steam. The water helps thin the caramel, so it doesn’t all stick to the pan after the flan bakes in the oven.
Pour the caramel into 8½ x 4½-inch loaf pan and set aside. The caramel will harden in the pan.
Step 2: Make the custard
Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in large bowl.
Add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, vanilla, Bourbon, and salt and whisk until incorporated.
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Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a larger bowl. The strainer will catch little bits of egg that you don’t want in your flan.
Pour the strained custard into the loaf pan over the caramel.
Step 3: Bake
Place the loaf pan in the center of a 9×13-inch baking or roasting pan (preferably with high sides) to make a water bath. Place the nested pans in the oven; using a tea kettle or pitcher, pour hot water around the loaf pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. The purpose of the water bath is to moderate the heat and ensure that the mixture cooks evenly into a smooth and creamy custard. (Cheesecake uses the same technique.)
Bake the flan for 75 to 90 minutes, until the custard is set around the edges but still a bit jiggly in the center. The custard should not be completely set when it is removed from the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools. Remove the pans from the oven and leave the flan in the water bath for about one hour to cool.
Step 4: Chill and Unmold the Flan
Remove the loaf pan from water bath, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill overnight or up to 4 days. To unmold the flan, carefully slide a knife around the edges of the pan.
Invert a platter with a raised rim on top of the flan and turn the pan and platter over. If it doesn’t release immediately, let it sit inverted for a minute and it should eventually slide out. Remove the loaf pan and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the residual caramel over the flan. You won’t be able to release all of it – that’s okay. Slice the flan and spoon the sauce over the individual servings. Serve with berries, if you like.