Recipe by Sarah Phillips; Food styling and photos by Kelly Hong © 5-20-2013 Sarah Phillips CraftyBaking.com
Silky smooth and creamy, flan is an oven-baked caramel custard dessert that hails from Spain and Mexico, and is much loved throughout the world. It is very similar to the French creme caramel, but richer and a bit more dense. Made from whole eggs, egg yolks, and milk, cream, half and half, or sweetened condensed milk, it is baked in a caramel-lined dish, then chilled and inverted so that the caramel sauce coats the custard completely. Traditionally, flan is flavored simply with vanilla but there are countless variations such as almond, pistachio, orange, pumpkin, coffee, and coconut.
We will show you, step-by-step with color photos and detailed explanations, how to bake a flawless flan. We also let you know why some flan recipes fail, and how to avoid those pitfalls with our expert baking tips and techniques. I particularly love this recipe because it bakes in a deep dish, making an especially nice presentation. Make this recipe 12 to 24 hours before serving so it has a chance to completely solidify in the refrigerator.
CUSTARD RECIPE HELP
This delicate custard is baked in a waterbath which allows the flan to bake at a low, consistent heat slowly, helping prevent overbaking or cracking and other problems. It also gives it a creamy, rather than porous, texture.
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup water, divided
2 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups whole or 2% milk
1 cup heavy cream
STEP I: MAKE THE CARAMEL SAUCE
Any caramel sauce can become gritty really fast, unless you follow our candy-making tips and techniques for success. Make sure you cook it to the right caramelization color, otherwise it won't have its fantastic flavor and aroma essential to enhance this silky smooth vanilla flan recipe.
1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sugar and then 1/4 cup water.
Mix together with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved.
SARAH SAYS: Make sure you do NOT use a nonstick pan, otherwise the sugar syrup will not reach the right temperature and/or burn easily.
The pan must be spotlessly clean and dry, otherwise the sugar can crystallize, making the sauce gritty and unpleasant.
2. Stir constantly till the sugar is totally dissolved and the liquid is ready to come to boil.
3. STOP stirring.
4. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
5. Dip a pastry brush in water and brush down the sides of the pot to remove the sugar crystals to help prevent sugar crystallization.
Dip the pastry brush on fresh water before you use it every time.
6. Boil, uncovered, for 6 to 7 minutes, until the mixture becomes a medium amber caramel. Turn off the heat.
SARAH SAYS: Do not stir or jar the pan, otherwise unwanted sugar crystals may form, ruining the whole batch. If it does, you must start over, again with fresh ingredients.
7. Immediately pour in about half of the caramel to cover the bottom of a 4- to 5-cup soufflé dish. Tilt the dish so the caramel coats the bottom.
NOTE: We used a 4 cup soufflé dish.
8. Place the pan back on the stovetop with the remaining caramel. Slowly add 1/3 cup water to it.
BE CAREFUL and stand back because the caramel mixture is hot and adding the water will cause it to spatter.
9. Bring the caramel mixture back to a boil, and stir well with a wooden spoon, until all the solidified caramel on the bottom of the pan has melted.
10. Pour the caramel mixture into a heat-proof bowl and let it cool. When the caramel has cooled to room temperature, stir in the brandy and lemon juice.
Set finished sauce aside, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
STEP II: MAKE THE FLAN CUSTARD
1. Position an oven shelf to the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. With a wire whisk, mix the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Add the milk and cream and mix until it is incorporated.
SARAH SAYS: You do NOT want beat it so you get lots of air bubbles in the mixture; however, make sure it is homogenous. Otherwise, you will get lots of tiny air bubbles or holes in the flan when baked. Also, overbaking an egg-custard dish, called synersis, can cause these tiny holes, as well.
4. Place the caramel-lined soufflé dish in a deep baking pan. Pour the mixture into the soufflé dish.
NOTE: The mixture will almost come up to the top of a 4 cup soufflé dish.
5. Add enough water to the outer pan so that it goes halfway up the sides of the dish.
6. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the custard is set in the center and lightly browned on top.
The custard will still be quite wiggly in the center when its container is tapped lightly on its side with the handle of a wooden spoon.
7. Remove the dish from the water and let cool, no longer than 1 hour at room temperature.
Then cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12 hours, preferably for 24 hours for best results.
To unmold the flan, run a sharp, thin knife around the edge of the dish, making sure not to cut into the sides of the flan.
8. Place a rimmed serving platter on top of the flan and invert it, shake the dish gently to help unmold the custard from the dish.
9. The caramel that lined the pan will be quite watery, and it will flow out into the dish.
Sop up this watery caramel with paper towels.
10. Then, pour the reserved caramel brandy sauce over the flan.
Garnish the flan with edible flowers or berries.
Cover flan with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.