Crème Caramel or Flan (About)

200px-Homemade_FlanBy Cat, Jan 2008 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

Crème caramel is a wonderful custard dessert with a soft caramel sauce on top.  Caramel is sugar melted and cooked until it begins to turn golden, and then stirred with cream; in this case, the cream is provided by the custard. Because this dessert is quite sugary, I would not recommend eating it very often, and then in small half-cup servings.

Flan is, generally, an alternate name for crème caramel. I’m also familiar with a sponge-cake dessert baked in a flan pan that has a raised area in the center, so that when the cake is turned out, it has a depression on top into which one can add fruit, sauces, or fillings.

Crème brûlée is similar to crème caramel,  but has a hard caramel cause on the top (made by placing it under a broiler or using a torch).

The process of producing caramel is known as glycation (Links to Health & Disease section of my old site until I get it moved), and there is some evidence that consumption of glycated foods may hasten aging. Another reason not to eat this very often.

Crème Caramel or Flan Notes

To minimize the sugar impact, I make the custard with stevia.  There is no choice but to use real sugar for the caramel, but I like to use unrefined cane sugar (dried cane juice) as it maintains the enzymes and minerals from the original cane.  Commercial brands are Rapadura and Sucanat.

For true caramel, you want to use a light colored sugar. Rapadura and Sucanat are a light brown color from the natural molasses. Turbinado (unbleached white sugar) is a lighter colored, but less nutritious, option for a lighter caramel sauce. (Refer to my article on unrefined sugars for more).

If you have trouble with your sugar scorching in spots, try mixing it with a bit of cold water before melting.  This will help it to melt more evenly and not scorch.

For the custard, you can use whole eggs and milk, as in the first recipe.  Or, for a richer custard, you can mix egg yolks with whole eggs, and use a blend of milk and cream.

Infusing the milk with fragrant herbs such as rosemary or thyme can add an interesting flavor.

Detailed Method for Making Crème Caramel or Flan:

For ingredients and amounts, see one of my recipes for Crème caramel or flan on my Puddings Menu.


  1. Heat sugar (or sugar and water, if using) in heavy-bottomed or cast iron skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan so that the sugar is evenly distributed in the bottom.  Tilt and move the pan around on the burner to prevent hot spots, and heat until the sugar caramelizes to an amber color, 5 – 6 minutes.
  2. Pour the caramelized sugar evenly into the bottom of a 2-quart round glass baking dish.  If necessary, tilt the dish to evenly coat the bottom with the caramel.  Allow caramel to cool.

Custard:  Infuse the Milk (Skip this step if not infusing with herbs)

  1. While caramel cools, combine milk, cream and sweetener in a medium saucepan.  Bruise the herbs with a mallet or mortar and pestle; add to the milk mixture.  Bring to simmer over medium heat (steam gathers just above the surface, but it does not come to a boil).
  2. Remove from the heat; cover and let the infused milk steep for 1 hour.  Strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.  Lift the cheesecloth out of the strainer and squeeze out any remaining liquid from the herbs, then discard them.

Prepare and Bake Custard

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks (the more yolks the richer the custard) in large bowl just until blended.  Whisk the infused milk mixture (or milk/cream and sweetener if not using infused milk) into the eggs. Strain if used infused milk.
  3. Place the caramel-lined baking dish(s) into a deep roasting pan and pour the egg custard mixture into the baking dish(s).  Pour enough water into the roasting pan to come to the level of the custard.  Carefully put this into the oven.
  4. Bake until flan is set and the center has a slight juggle, about 60 – 70 minutes (or less for individual servings).  Remove from the oven and let cool, then cover and chill overnight.
  5. When ready to serve, loosen the sides of the flan (or cup custards) with the tip of a knife or a small spatula and invert the onto a large serving plate (or individual dessert dishes).  If the flan does not want to release, dip the baking dish(s) into a pan of hot water to loosen the bottom and sides, then tapping cup to help release custard.  Leave inverted baking dish (or cups) on plate for several minutes to allow caramel syrup to drip from onto custard.


  1. Wikipedia:ème_caramel

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