Flan de México

September is here, the month to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day. Flan seems in order, the most Mexican of Mexican desserts, and one that any good cocinera mexicana worth her sal should know how to make.

Flan and other very sweet desserts arrived during the Spanish colonial period with the nuns. I can’t remember eating flan until we started traveling south of the border. On one of our trips, we assigned ourselves the mission of finding the very best flan anywhere. After many different tastings in many different towns, the winner was a flan at the Hotel Victoria in Chihuahua. Delicate. Silky. The stuff food memories are made of.

Flan is fairly simple to make, though I added the extra step of cooking sugar with evaporated milk to avoid using condensed milk, an ingredient in many Mexican flans, but excessively sweet. This substitution for condensed milk allows for adjusting the sweetness level to your own taste. Use less or more sugar in the condensed milk substitution, or use a can of condensed milk in place of one of the cans of evaporated milk if your sweet tooth needs sating. But if you do use condensed milk, omit adding sugar to the evaporated milk. It’s already in the condensed milk.

Flan in Mexico can be made with whole milk, evaporated milk, condensed milk, coconut milk, orange juice, even with a box mix. This is a low-sugar version with evaporated milk.

FLAN serves 8-10

  • 2 cans (340 ml/360 g each) evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup (104 g), plus 2/3 cup (135 g) sugar
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Bring evaporated milk and 1/2 cup (104 g) sugar to a simmer, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.
  2. Bring 8 cups (2 liters) of water to a boil. Line a larger pan with a folded dish towel. This is to stabilized the loaf pan when it is placed into the larger baking pan of boiling water, creating a bain-marie, or water bath.
  3. Caramelize sugar to line loaf pan by bringing 2/3 cup (135 g) sugar and 1/4 cup (60 ml) water to a simmer over medium high heat in a medium sized, heavy-bottomed skillet, swirling pan briefly to evenly moisten sugar. Do not over-swirl or stir to prevent sugar from forming crystals. When it reaches a medium dark brown color, carefully pour into a 9″ (23 cm) loaf pan. Set aside. (See notes below recipe before caramelizing sugar.)
  4. Pre-heat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).
  5. Whisk yolks, whole eggs and vanilla. Gradually add evaporated milk and whole milk until combined. To avoid bubbles, do not over-mix. Pour into loaf pan. Cover with foil.
  6. Place pan on lowest shelf of oven. Carefully add boiling water to larger pan.
  7. Bake for 1 hour and 20-30 minutes. The center should jiggle when done. Let loaf pan rest in water bath for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, set on rack to cool. When room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  8. To unmold, run a thin knife around inside of loaf pan, place a large, rimmed dish upside down over flan and quickly invert, holding 2 dishes securely together. Remove loaf pan. Scrape any remaining caramel sauce around the flan. Slice and serve with spoonfuls of caramel sauce.

Notes ~

~ Making caramel requires a few does and don’ts. Do stay with the pan during caramelization. There’s a fine line between the complex bitter-sweet, dark brown caramel stage, and burnt caramel. Don’t stir. This can create sugar crystals. Swirling the pan at the beginning to moisten all the sugar is sufficient. Dark caramel reaches 380 F (193 C), so no splashing or spoon licking. Do pour the finished caramel immediately into the flan pan to stop cooking.

~ The pan can be removed from the heat at any time after the caramel starts to brown, but the darkest color, just when the caramel starts to smoke, yields the delightful bitter-sweet flavor that gives a counterpoint to the sweetness of the flan. Some of the caramel will remain in the pan after the flan is turned out. Set the pan in a skillet of very hot water for a few minutes, then scrape out softened caramel, but it won’t be possible to get it all out. Fill the pan with hot water and allow to soak before washing.

~ A lighter colored caramel will come out of the pan more easily, but will not have reached the complex burnt sugar flavor that is the hallmark of flan.

~ Serving flan is a delicate operation because the flan is so delicate. Use the thinnest knife you have to cut one slice. With a serving spatula as large as the slice, ease it into where you just cut. Have a second large spatula in place against the outer surface of the slice of flan. Using the first spatula, ease it onto the second spatula, then onto the dessert plate. Did that make sense? No worries if your served slice isn’t pristine. It will still be delicious.

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7 thoughts on “Flan de México

    1. I haven’t used coconut milk, but I think I’m going to make a coconut flan for the blog in the near future.
      Caramelized sugar can go from just right to burnt in seconds. You can’t walk away while the sugar is caramelizing The instant I see a wiff of the tiniest bit of smoke, the pan is removed from the heat and the sugar is immediately poured into the flan pan to stop further cooking. A thin-bottomed pan may cause spots of burning. If you see burn spots starting, swirl it just a little to incorporate the dark spots into the rest of the mixture. Use a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat if there is a tendency to burn. Sugar will carmelize over the lowest heat, it just takes longer. I use a medium high flame and watch it like a hawk.

    2. Linda, additionally, use a stainless steel pan, rather than a pan with a dark interior. It’s easier to monitor the color then. I take cararmelization right up to the beginning of the burnt point, because the burnt sugar taste is so so wonderful with flan. But you don’t have to take it so far. One site describes caramelizing being complete when it’s the color of peanut butter. I take it to a dark coffee color. There is room for degrees of doneness here.

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