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053Flan is the quintessential Latin dessert.  It is velvety lusciousness on your tongue;  it’s easy and really must be made ahead.  A perfect win-win dish!   There are many different types of flan.  I make about 4 different versions, depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m serving.  This recipe is a good basic flan.  It’s creamy, slightly dense and easy to prepare.  You need to make it ahead for it to set up properly, which is the case with most flan recipes.  When making the caramel, please use extreme caution.  It is lava-hot!


  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: Easy Enough
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  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk (not cream of coconut) or evaporated milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the caramel:  Place the sugar in a saucepan (a shiny one makes it easier to see the proper color); place over medium heat. Gently shake the pan back and forth until you see the sugar starting to brown/caramelize. At this point, you may need to stir with a wooden spoon; just a couple of stirs.  There will be a few lumps, but they will disappear and will eventually dissolve. The goal is a golden amber colored caramel; swirl the pan until the sugar reaches the desired color. Remove from heat and quickly, but very carefully pour the caramel into a 9-inch in diameter dish; tilt and swirl the dish to fully coat the bottom. Set aside.

In a bowl (some people use a blender, but I find a bowl and whisk work well enough) combine the milks, eggs and vanilla.  Whisk until well combined.  Pour into the caramel-coated dish.  Place the dish in a bain Marie; fill the pan with almost boiling water to reach at least 1 inch up the side of the flan dish.  Bake in a preheated 325°F oven for at least 1 hour.  You may need to bake longer, depending on the depth of the dish you choose for your flan.  The middle 3 inches should still jiggle a bit when gently shaken.  Remove the flan from the oven; cool completely to room temperature.  Cover and chill for 24 hours.  Using a table knife, carefully run the knife around the edge.  Cover with a plate and in one, smooth move, turn the plate and dish upside-down releasing the flan onto the plate.  Serve with some of the flan “juice”.  Refrigerate leftovers.

Flan Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2014.  All rights reserved.

102The most difficult part is the caramel.  This will become the “flan juice” as we affectionately refer to the caramelized sugar that you line a flan dish with.   Making the caramel isn’t difficult, but it seems to intimidate people unbelievably.  The main thing to remember this stuff is scorching hot, so it’s best if children aren’t around and once you start, you can’t walk away from the stove or you could scorch it.  If that happens, get another pan, let this one cool and start over, because scorched caramel is bitter and extremely unpleasant.  It’s easier to tell when the color changes and is just right, if you use a shiny pan, as opposed to say, a cast iron skillet.

089Begin with the sugar.  I don’t add water, because you just have to evaporate the water out anyway, so it slows down the process.






093You cook the sugar, swirling the pan periodically until the sugar melts







095and darkens to your liking.  Then quickly pour the sugar into the dish you will cook the flan in.

Be very careful handling the mixture because it is screaming hot and will burn you to your core.  If you get any on you, it will stick to your skin.





Using a towel or pot holders swirl and twist the dish until the bottom and partially up the sides is coated with the caramelized sugar.  Set aside while you make the flan.  The sugar will harden completely.





To bake a flan properly you need to make a bain Marie, or hot water bath.  You want to protect this food of the Gods from the heat, so you put it in a hot water bath!  Makes perfect sense, no?  This is a gentler, more compatible heat than the dry heat of an oven and actually does protect the eggs from curdling.  If you bake a flan without the benefit of a bain Marie, the consistency becomes grainy and is everything you don’t want a flan to be.  Simply use a pan that will allow about an inch all the way around the dish you’re protecting.  I use a 9X13-inch aluminum pan.  Place a dish towel/cloth on the bottom to protect the flan from the heat, place the flan-filled dish on the cloth and place this combobulation in the oven.  Now, carefully pour in enough almost boiling water to come at least 1 inch up the side of the flan dish, but the higher the water, the more protection.  Just becareful not to get water in the flan.  You can see in the picture that I’ve pulled the oven grate out…sliding it back in can be a bit tricky, but just take it slow.

HINT:  When using an aluminum pan to make a bain Marie, add 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the water; this prevents the pan from darkening.

008I prefer to bake in a 325°F oven.  It takes about 60-90 minutes.  The very center of the flan (about 3 inches in diamter) should shake a bit when you nudge the dish.  The flan will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven.  If the top of the flan is browning faster than you want, just lay a piece of foil on top, but I don’t mind a bit of color; that’s up to you.  Cool completely to room temperature, cover and chill for at least 12 hours, but 24-48 is even better.

038To unmold, run a table knife around the edge of the flan, invert a dish that has an edge on it (you want to catch all the flan “juice”) over the flan and holding the two dishes together, turn the flan upside-down in one smooth movement.  The flan will drop into the dish

041and…Voilà!!  Dessert is served.  There will be some of the caramelized sugar that remains stuck to the bottom of the pan.  I usually add several tablespoons of water, put the dish in the microwave for a minute, stir the mixture around, let it cool and pour whatever as melted around the flan.  If anyone knows how to get all the caramel out to release from the dish, PLEASE share that tip.  I know some people add lemon juice; I’ve tried that and it didn’t seem to help.  Refrigerate leftovers…if there are any!