My husband LOVES flan. I’ve never understood why… every time I had flan in a restaurant it was lumpy and hard with a congealed cottage cheese texture – served in a bitter burnt-sugar tasting sauce. It reminded me of curdled milk… yuck! Since then, I’ve realized that is NOT how flan is supposed to be… and the poor flan examples I’ve had the misfortune of trying are what happens when you DON’T make flan correctly!
Good flan is supposed to be creamy and smooth, with a soft silky texture. The sauce should be a rich golden caramel, with no hint of a burnt flavor at all. Once you have REAL flan, you will never consider even looking at gross overcooked flan ever again.
So how do you make a good flan? With trial and error, I figured out the secrets:
1. The less bubbles you start with in your custard batter, the less bubbles and “chunks” you will end up with in your cooked flan. Don’t overly agitate your mixture, and make sure you strain it through a sieve.
2. GENTLE heating is a must! Control the temperature, and go low and slow… better to slightly undercook than overcook (as the flan will continue to cook once you remove from the oven.)
3. Insulation!!!! (So that the sides don’t cook faster than the center, ruining the texture.) Line the bottom of the baking pan with a thick kitchen towel, and use a hot water bath (NOT boiling water bath).
And 4. Don’t overcook the caramel! Caramel can go from perfect to burnt in less then 15 seconds, so babysit your cooking caramel, and do not leave the pot’s side! Also, remember that crystallization will occur if you don’t cook your caramel the right way – follow all the instructions exactly as written, lest your caramel seize! Don’t stir the caramel!
- 2/3 c. sugar
- 2 T. water
- 3 c. half and half
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/3 c. sugar
- Eight 6 oz. ramekins (3.5 inch diameter)
- large roasting pan
- heavy bottom saucepan
- kitchen towel
- Metal Sieve/strainer
- hot tap water
- tongs or Jar Lifter
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Then make the caramel: Place the sugar and water into a heavy bottom saucepan over medium high heat. Place a lid over the pot for the first minute until all the sugar is dissolved, then remove. (Do not stir – stirring will cause the sugar to crystallize and harden into a puck of sugar rock!)
2. Cook the sugar mixture for about 5 minutes or so (maybe a few minutes longer if needed), swirling the pot very gently once every 30 seconds, until the mixture is a golden amber color. (The sugar can burn or seize pretty quickly, so don’t walk away from the pan! Once the sugar turns the correct color, turn the heat off immediately, and remove the pot from the stove.) Do not stir, do not add water, do not add more sugar, and do not swirl the pan too briskly. If your caramel seizes and turns into a jagged rocky mess of crystals, you will have to start over. Remove the pan from the heat and proceed to step 3 immediately – the caramel will continue to cook and darken in the pot, so do this as quickly as possible (but don’t burn yourself – the caramel will feel like molten hot lava should you spill on yourself!).
3. Quickly pour the hot caramel into the bottom of each ramekin. (The caramel will harden against the bottom of the ramekin almost immediately – this is normal, so don’t worry about it!) Tilt the ramekins slightly to ensure the caramel covers the entire bottom.
4. In a bowl, gently mix all of the custard ingredients with a wire whisk. (Do not use whipping motions – just stir slowly until the mixture is even. You want to avoid creating air bubbles – those bubbles will ruin the smooth texture of your flan! You can see that in the photo below, a few bubbles were created regardless of careful stirring – we will remove these by straining in the next step.)
5. Strain the mixture through a sieve directly into a pitcher (for easy pouring in the next step). Straining the custard mixture will help remove any bits of egg chalaza and any remaining air bubbles (for a smoother flan texture).
6. Place a kitchen dish towel in the bottom of a large roasting pan (folded in half for double thickness), then place your ramekins on top of the dish towel. Carefully fill each caramel lined ramekin with the custard mixture. (The dish towel will help insulate the bottom of the ramekins for gentle cooking, as well as keep the ramekins from sliding around when you move the pan into the oven.)
7. Carefully (and slowly) pour hot tap water into the roasting pan, about halfway up the side of the ramekins. (I know some recipes call for using boiling water in the bain-marie. However, I have found that for flan – this causes the outside of the ramekin to overheat somewhat, creating a curdled and overcooked texture. So just stick with the hottest water from your tap only.)
8. Very carefully place the roasting pan into the preheated oven. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. The center should be almost set, but will still be a little bit jiggly. (Do not overcook – otherwise your flan will have “bubbles” on the side and will have a curdled texture to it.)
9. Remove the roasting pan from the oven, and allow the ramekins to continue sitting immersed in the hot water for another 10 minutes. (The flan will continue to cook and set as it sits in the hot water.)
10. After 10 minutes, carefully remove the ramekins with tongs to a folded towel (or rack), and allow to cool completely. Then, cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or overnight). (I used a Home-canning Jar Lifter to remove the ramekins from the hot water – these have a rubbery grip and are made for lifting round things out of hot water!)
11. To serve, run a knife or spatula around the edge to loosen the sides of the flan, then invert onto a dessert plate.
Enjoy your perfectly cooked, smooth, flan! You can store the flan in the (plastic wrap covered) ramekins in your refrigerator for up to 5 days.