How to Make Flan (Crème Caramel)
This sweet custard with caramel sauce is a wonderfully rich and decadent dessert to finish off a special meal (or any meal)!
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Is there anything more impressive than flan (or crème caramel as it’s also known)? If you want to flex your baking muscles, flipping a flan to reveal its rich and sticky caramel sauce is a real win!
I’ve gotten some oohhs and aahhs. It’s dinner and a show!
What I especially love about this recipe is that this flan is made with whole eggs! No need to scramble (get it?) to figure out what to do with leftover egg whites from flan. (Although meringue cookies would’ve been a good option *wink, wink*)
What is flan/crème caramel?
Flan and crème caramel are just two ways to describe a custard like dessert with caramel sauce. The two can be used interchangeably.
The magic is all in how flan is made!
How to make flan:
Flan is made by first caramelizing sugar on your stovetop, and the browned sugar is then poured into the bottom of the baking dish/dishes. I like to use ramekins for flan for extra easy portion division, and it makes it easier to manage flipping as well!
An egg and milk based custard is whisked together and poured on top of the sugar layer. You then place the flan in a water bath, which is just a large baking dish (I like to use a roasting pan) filled with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Bake the flan low and slow for 40 to 45 minutes. You can check the doneness by inserting a knife halfway into one flan, and it should come out clean. The top of the flan should also be set, but still soft and jiggly.
Next is the worst part about making flan: waiting! Flan needs to chill for at least 4 hours to set up. I prefer to do that overnight to be sure it’s set before trying to invert them.
DON’T TRY TO SPEED THIS UP BY FREEZING! Try as I may, putting flan in the freezer always leaves me with a hardened sugar bottom, which means less caramel sauce! It really is worth the wait to chill in the fridge.
To invert the flan, run a pairing knife along the edges of your ramekins to loosen the flan. Place a plate upside down over the flan. ** Make sure to pick a plate with a lip so it can catch the caramel sauce! ** Quickly flip the ramekin and plate, and wiggle the ramekin off to reveal your beautiful HOMEMADE FLAN!
Careful, careful, careful!
Flan isn’t difficult to make, but it can very quickly and very easily go south! The main part where I used to always struggle was with the caramel that goes on the bottom of your flan (which ultimately becomes the top).
First, you have to be super duper careful when working with hot sugar because … well, ouch!! But the tough part is we do need to work relatively quickly because the sugar can go from perfectly caramelized to burnt in a split second!
But don’t be discouraged if you do get burnt sugar! I lost count of how many times it’s happened to me… Just keep on keepin’ on! It’s better to toss the sugar out and start over, than to try to make the flan with burnt sugar. Because it can (and will) ruin the whole dessert!
One thing to keep in mind is if your saucepan is darker in color, it’ll make your sugar look darker than it actually is. One trick I like to use is to let the sugar come up to a honey color on the stovetop, then take it off the stove and let the heat from the pan finish caramelizing the sugar. I’ve never had a day of burnt sugar with this technique!
If you liked this flan, check out some of these similar recipes!
Crème Caramel / Flan Recipe
For the caramel layer:
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
For the custard:
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
- 2 cups milk
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. Place 4 (5 ounce) ramekins in a large roasting pan. Set aside.
- Make the caramel sauce: Fill a medium sauce pan with water and sugar. Place the pot over medium-high heat and heat the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Bring the mixture up to a boil, and boil for abut 10 minutes, or until the sugar turns a honey brown color. Do not mix once the sugar is dissolved!! * (see notes) If needed, swirl the pan gently.
- Once the caramel is honey colored, remove from the heat and continue swirling the pan until it turns a deep amber color (about 10 seconds). Quickly (but carefully!) pour out 2 to 3 tablespoons of caramel sauce into the bottom of each ramekin. Swirl the ramekin to even out the sauce and cover the corners (it doesn't have to be perfect!). The sugar will harden, but that's perfectly normal. Set aside to make the custard layer.
- Make the custard: In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Whisk together until the eggs are broken up and the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk and whisk to combine.
- Strain the custard to remove any pieces of egg that didn't get incorporated. Pour the strained custard into the ramekins (over the caramel sauce) until just under filled to the top.
- Fill the roasting pan with hot water going halfway up the sides of the ramekins to create a water bath for the flan.
- Place the roasting pan in the center of your preheated 325°F oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. To check if your flan is done, insert a thin knife into the center of one of the flans (halfway down). The knife should come out clean, but the flans should still jiggle. The top should also be dry to the touch, but soft.
- Take the roasting pan out of the oven, and carefully remove the flans from the water bath. Let the flans cool completely to room temperature. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight (preferable). Once chilled, run a knife along the edges of your flan, and place a plate (with a lip! ** see notes) over the ramekin upside down. Quickly flip the flan and the plate. Lift up the ramekin to reveal the flipped flan.