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A classic flan ticks all the dessert boxes: Silky smooth, yet firm enough to hold its shape when carved up with a spoon; and creamy but not cloying, highlighted with a sharp, sweet note of caramel.



What Is Flan?

Flan is a creamy custard dessert made with milk, eggs, sugar, occasionally flavored with vanilla, and topped with caramel sauce. Also known as crème caramel, the sweet custard is gently cooked inside a loose caramel base (unlike its crème brûlée counterpart, which features a hard, crystallized caramel layer on top). Upon serving, the baker inverts the dish onto a plate, and the caramel drips down the sides of the set custard, creating a visually appealing dessert for celebrations, holidays, or a special weekend treat.

A Brief History of Flan

If necessity is the mother of invention, one could argue that a surplus of eggs from newly domesticated chickens in the Roman era willed the modern flan into existence.

  • The savory dish gets the sweet treatment in Rome. Early custard dishes, made from a basic combination of cooked eggs and cream, were more often savory than sweet—until flado, a popular version made with honey, became the de-facto format in Ancient Rome.
  • The Spanish introduce caramel. The Spanish are credited with introducing caramel to the dish. When the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, a soft spot for flan came with them, becoming a beloved staple wherever it went, eventually inspiring many regional variations throughout Latin America.
  • Latin-American variations. Some recipes call for cream cheese (like Mexican flan de queso, or flan napolitano), some feature a bottom layer of sponge cake (like Puerto Rican flancocho), and others highlight a range of flavors like citrus, coconut milk, passion fruit, liqueurs, or spices, as seen in Portuguese-style pudim flan.
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3 Tips for Making Flan

Here are some essential tips for bakers preparing to make their own flan:

1. Choose the Right Vessel.

If it’s your first time making flan, using small ramekins will make it much easier to evenly cook and invert the sweet dessert onto a serving dish. Using a larger baking pan like a loaf pan or cake pan makes for a striking presentation but requires more attention to cooking time and care when inverting onto a plate, as the custard may split under its own weight.

2. Use a Water Bath.

Like a cheesecake, you must cook flan in a water bath, or bain-marie. A water bath involves setting the flan ramekin in boiling water, ensuring a gentle, even heat distribution. To make a bain-marie at home, set the flans in a deep roasting pan or baking dish. Fill the pan with hot water halfway up the ramekins or pan and place it in the oven.

3. Keep It Smooth.

For a little extra finesse, eliminate bubbles in the finished flan by passing the custard mixture through a sieve before baking.

Classic Flan Recipe

8 individual ramekins, or 1 9-inch cake pan
Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
1 hr 25 min
Cook Time
1 hr 15 min


  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. To make the caramel sauce, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl gently to incorporate—don’t stir—and cook until the sugar begins to boil. Lower the heat, and continue to cook, occasionally swirling, until the caramel is a rich, golden brown, anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Be patient, and stay near the pot as the mixture cooks to avoid burning the sugar.
  3. Pour the caramelized sugar syrup along the bottom of 8 personal ramekins or a cake pan, tilting to coat the bottoms evenly. Place in a large heatproof roasting pan or baking dish and set aside.
  4. Combine the condensed milk, evaporated milk, eggs, and vanilla in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth but not too frothy. Pour custard over the caramel in the prepared pan or ramekins.
  5. Bring water to a boil in a kettle. Transfer the flan to the oven, and fill the roasting pan with water to the halfway point.
  6. Cover with aluminum foil, and bake until just set, about 1 hour. The finished flan should have a slight jiggle.
  7. Remove from the water bath and let the flan cool completely before serving, either at room temperature or in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, run a small offset spatula around the bottom of the pan or ramekins and carefully invert onto a serving plate.

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