The secret to making perfect Flan (Crème Caramel)

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Flan (Crème Caramel)

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!


This is what overcooked/curdled flan looks like. YOU DON'T WANT YOUR FLAN TO TURN OUT LIKE THIS!!!! Not only is it ugly, but it's lumpy, and has a cottage cheese texture to it. Not good! :(

  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 2 T. water

Flan Custard:

  • 3 c. half and half
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. sugar

Hardware needed:

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.


  1. Katrina says:

    whenever i make flan the caramel always go hard after cooling down how to prevent this?

    • Mika Mika says:

      You can’t prevent this. The caramel is supposed to get hard. When you cook the flan over the caramel, and after storing in the refrigerator though… enough of the caramel will “melt” with the liquid in the flan and create a liquid caramel sauce, and give you the nice golden brown top. If you have a little bit of hardened caramel stuck in your ramekin, soak it in hot water to clean. The longer you store the flan in the refrigerator, the more the caramel will turn from hard to a syrupy sauce. I recommend making them a day ahead of time if possible.

      • Muslim says:


  2. tasha ho says:

    instead of sugar, can I use condensed milk?

    • Mika Mika says:

      There are other recipes for flan that call for sweetened condensed milk – this recipe is not one of them. You would need to alter many of the ingredients and proportions if you wanted to make that substitution. It would be better to just find a different recipe calling for sweetened condensed milk and go with that one instead. Many of the techniques in this recipe should still help make your flan turn out well regardless of the recipe used.

      • Sandra says:

        May I ask what means 3 c. half and half in custard ingredients?


        • Mika Mika says:

          “Half and half” is a common dairy product sold in the United States. Literally, it is “half cream, half milk”. If you cannot find actual “half and half” where you live, then use instead 1 1/2 c. whole milk + 1 1/2 c. heavy cream.

    • Quellecatastrophe says:

      If you want the real deal, go to the people who really know how to do this right– the Latins–it is FLAN after all. Go look at a video that show how to make real flan using real latin ingredients which involves condensed millk. In my opinion, this recipe is a sad attempt at the real thing!

      • Mika Mika says:

        Thanks SO MUCH for your incredibly helpful comment!!!!

        Here in the real world, most people realize there are many different ways to do something… especially when it comes to cooking. While I’m sure whatever recipe you use works well for YOU, a lot of people have trouble making a decent flan. Flan is, after all, a baked custard… something that must be cooked gently, as overcooking or problems with technique can cause sub par results. I never said that my way is the ONLY way to do this… but it works for me, and this is how **I** do it.

        The purpose of this FREE CONTENT blog is to educate people and help amateur home cooks learn how to do something. If you don’t like my blog or my recipes… feel free not to come to this website and use any of the recipes or educational posts that I do in my spare time, without pay!

        While you can make flan (or any other custard) with convenience products like sweetened condensed milk… you can make a simple custard using basic ingredients without the use of this particular processed product.

        • Linda says:

          It also might be helpful to remember that flan has been made for centuries — long before sweetened condensed milk was even imagined. Condensed milk is a staple in many (most?) Latin-American households, but is not nearly as common in Spain …. where flan originated. It’s true that what is now considered a traditional flan in Mexico or South/Central America is very likely to be made with sweetened condensed milk. The flavor and texture of such a flan is quite distinct because of the condensed milk. A traditional Spanish flan, on the other hand, would be made with milk or cream (or a combination of them), eggs, sugar and some flavoring — they even sometimes use essence of lemon or orange blossoms to flavor it there, rather than vanilla, and all of those things create a very different kind of flan. Every abuela has her own favorite family recipe, and every hijito believes that their abuelita’s recipe is the perfect one!

        • Tom says:

          Thanks for the great recipe and explanation of the process. Extremely helpful.

        • Angie says:

          This reply made me absolutely SMILE! You go girl! Geez, it’s obvious those who have no life!

      • wow says:

        wow Quellecatastrophe way to go on being a b**ch. you dont need to trash her recipe just because there are different ways to make flan. the fact you would judge her for this is just retarded.

      • Latina93 says:

        No you are wrong. There really is no such thing as “real” flan. I know many Mexican women who don’t like to use condensed milk. I actually think condensed milk bought in the store doesn’t give the flan as good of a taste. How do you think condensed milk is made? It’s milk with unrefined sugar. I am a latina and my Mexican family loves this recipe. :)

      • Kim Wilson says:

        This is an excellent recipe. It is very creamy, and ranks with the best. It is exactly what I would want from my flan from all the places in the world I have had flan.

  3. I am SO impressed by this entry asnd photos on flan. It is so clear and well explained. So now I understand three critical things: the towel , the sieve, and the knife insertion an inch from the center. Wow you are terrific. I am going to link to this site wherever i can because everyone should read this before making flan!

    You don’t cover your baking flans? I covered mine with foil tonight because i only have a convection oven (and it doesn’t have a no-fan option) and the fan was roughing up the surface of the flan. I would also stress to cooks to not pour the water higher than halfway up the ramekin sides, because of problems that can arise from lifting the heavy pan into the oven and tilting it such that water gets into the flan. Arggghhh, i had that happen tonight.

    Thx again for this great entry. I will spread the word far and near!

  4. Alfa says:

    When you say 2t water is 2 tabelespoon?


    • Mika Mika says:

      Yes. 2 T. = 2 Tablespoons.

      The standard abbreviation for “Tablespoon” is a capital letter “T”.
      “Teaspoon” is abbreviated as lowercase “tsp”.

  5. Kim says:

    Hi, I was just wondering if you were to blend the ingredients to create the flan, does that ruin the texture to it or create bubbles? Do you recommend to best do it by hand?
    Also by using sweetened condensed milk, will it make the flan more sweet or is there not much of a difference if created with sugar?
    Finally, some other sites chose brown sugar to make the caramel, does that make a difference too?
    Sorry for asking so much and hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you (:

    • Mika Mika says:

      I wouldn’t use a blender to mix the custard unless you have plenty of time to wait for the bubbles to subside. Any bubbles in the liquid custard will make your baked custard have a curdled texture (the small bubbles created will expand in volume when heated during the baking process). So it’s best to mix by hand, slowly stirring without creating too many bubbles.

      As far as using sweetened condensed milk vs. sugar… do not make any substitutions in this recipe. Some people like to make their flan with sweetened condensed milk, but the proportions of ingredients will be different. It’s just a different way of making flan.

      You can make the caramel out of brown sugar… however, I always use regular white (granulated) sugar, so I can’t give you any advice on that. It depends what kind of flavor you want in your caramel. Brown sugar has a hint of molasses flavor… so if you like that flavor, then you might enjoy the caramel made with brown sugar instead. However “brown sugar” is just white sugar + molasses, so it isn’t necessarily “better”, just different… and it definitely has a higher moisture content…. so you have to take that extra moisture into account when making the caramel.

  6. Samiya says:

    Hi.we do not get half and half here so instead of tht can I use fresh milk and for cream fresh cream???

    • Mika Mika says:

      Yes, if you cannot find “half and half”, use a 1:1 ratio of whole milk to cream.

  7. Neha says:

    OMG!!! Thank you soooooo much for this! I had to submit something to cooking class soon and all the other website’s flan sucked! Yours was so great! I greatly appreciate this!!!!! I hop you have more of you great recipes that we will all be willing to learn!!!!!

  8. Ivan Gallagher says:

    How long can you keep the Créme Caramel out of the fridge?

    • Mika Mika says:

      Not too long. Once it cools down (after baking), it must be refrigerated because it is an egg based custard.

  9. Shynette says:

    Hi I made flan once and I failed because of too many bubbles and it sucks so now I’m afraid to try it again cos it’s a money waste :( Can you give some few tips to prevent bubbles? And also, Can I use egg the whole egg? Cos some people use the whole eggs. Thanks :)

    • Mika Mika says:

      I think if you use my instructions & recipe from start to finish (follow the instructions exactly), you will not end up with any bubbles. If you look at the recipe above, you will see that it does call for whole eggs. Also, please read the tips in the body of the text above the recipe.

  10. Joanne says:

    I loved your recipe and how delicious the result was just the authentic French creme caramel. I know I should have followed your instructions to the T but i used a hand mixer and created a frothy custard :(
    i know it ruined everything. Now it’s in the oven but it’s passed 30 mins and still not set. I am sad because i love this dessert and your recipe was easy to follow.
    Thank you and will try it again.

    • Mika Mika says:

      Don’t wait for the custard to “set” in the oven… you need to take it out after 25-30 minutes, while it is still jiggly. Otherwise, it will definitely overcook and curdle! Remember, that the custard will continue to cook while it is cooling.

  11. TEZ says:

    I know you said the recipe needs half and half, but I can’t do dairy because of the lactose. Will substituting for Almond milk completely work? I did it with another recipe and it seemed fine. Also would cook time change if I only had 10 ounce oval glass bowls? (They are just a bit wider than in the picture but about a similar height)

    • Mika Mika says:

      You could try almond milk, but I don’t know if it has enough fat to give a creamy texture. Try it and see I guess? Coconut milk might work a little bit better… but I haven’t tried substituting the dairy in the recipe, so just a suggestion.

      • Maddalyn says:

        If you use coconut milk, it will set after it is cold from the refrigerator.

    • Maddalyn says:

      I’ve made flan with coconut milk (full fat) successfully.

      • Maddalyn says:

        I forgot to mention that I heat the coconut milk slightly, just until the fat is melted.

  12. Borj says:

    Why whole eggs? Not 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg? If use it, it will be the same outcome?

    • Mika Mika says:

      Why whole eggs? That’s my recipe, and that’s how I make it… that’s why! ;)

      I’m not sure where you got “3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg” from… I didn’t mention that at all in the recipe. I wouldn’t use that substitution, though, because volume-wise, you will have much less egg to thicken your flan, and you will end up with more of a custard/pudding texture than a jiggly flan texture.

      • oneeyedsage09 says:

        Borj- The Yolk heavy flan you may be thinking of is closer to the Filipino flan and not what Mika is representing with this recipe/ Using more yolks is a creamier fattier alternative, but also is more touchy and easy to split when handling. Mika’s recipe is a great recipe for those looking for a more versatile Americanized flan. It is just as delicious, albeit slightly different. That’s what makes food great! Options!

        ***Also, for large quantity, this can be made in large or small aluminum loaf tins. Still cook in water-bath. Sprinkle a little sugar on the top for plastic wrapping to prevent the wrap from sticking. Keep the flan in the tins, wrap and refrigerate. As Mika has said and to add to it, sugar attracts moisture and so will liquify in the fridge even more when refrigerated overnight or longer. Will stay good for about 5 days in fridge. I wouldn’t hold it any longer for food safety, even with the high amount of sugar. Pull out tins as needed. Either loosen whole and plate or cut into cubes with strained caramel poured over.

        God luck! Happy sharing<3

  13. Meg says:

    Thanks for your recipe and detailed post! Quick question – can I bake the flan in a larger dish – pie or cake pan – rather than individual ramekins? Will it just affect baking time, or do you think there are more ramifications?

    • Mika Mika says:

      You could try baking in a larger dish… but the edges might end up more “done” before the center is fully set. I’ve never baked it that way – I prefer the smaller ramekins… so you might have to experiment with the baking time.

    • T'mara says:

      I have been doing it in the 10 oz custard cups. It does take more time and the top of the the flan will start to turn a little brown because I have to leave it in for 40-50 minutes. If you experiement, make sure you don’t take the flan out of the oven until it is jello jiggly ( not unbaked cake mix jiggly). But, I use oval glass cups as well, so that might affect something or other depending on your cake pan, I do recommend a circle or square though. Good luck! Also, I don’t know if you make a water bath or not, but plan to. Happy baking!

  14. JESSICA says:

    hello Mika,
    I need to make 100 for the church fundraising event. I am not sure how to mass produce this. could you please let me kow if I store the bake flan in the fridge longer than a day, would it make the flan harder. Also I notice when I flipped out the flan, I do have sugar stick on the dish. Can you tell me why and how to prevent it.

    • Mika Mika says:

      I think I have mentioned previously that it is NORMAL to have sugar stuck to the dish when you flip it. Some of this is inevitable. If you store the flan (refrigerated) longer (like 1-2 days ahead of time) more of the sugar will dissolve, and you will have less sugar stuck to the dish. The flan will not become hard if you cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days ahead of time.

  15. Brooke says:

    when you say 2tsp. vanilla, do you mean vanilla extract?