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Touble shoot my flan please

The flan part turned out beautifully, custard, rich, set just perfectly. BUT the caramel part was a total failure. Instead of melting and being the nice gooey topping on the flan itself, my carmel became a solid candy on the bottom of the raminkin.

Here is what I did.

I boiled sugar and water and a tiny tiny bit of corn syrup toget to make my caramel. I added the corn syrup to prevent crystalization (according to Alton Brown). On the surface it didn't affect my carmel at all. I think I pulled it off the stove too soon, my carmel was very light. But no matter, I can live with that.

So I pour it into my eight raminkins. Upon hitting the raminkins, the sugar set up hard. No problem, I thought with baking and the flan itself, it'll melt and loosen up. It didn't.

When I turned out the flan the next day after chilling, the flan part came out fine. But on the bottom of the raminkins I had hard stuck sugar.

What happened?

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  1. My first question and it is always one I always ask when dealing with sugar is what kind of sugar was it? By that I mean is it beet sugar or cane? If your bag of sugar was not marked Pure Cane or 100% Cane then you were using beet sugar and as much as the beet sugar people would like to have you believe that they are interchangangable they aren't and especailly so when making caramel.

    If you are positive what your were using was pure cane I'm stumped, I have never had it fail before but with beet i have really messed up caramel and will never buy anything but Domino or C&H again. It was embarassing and sounds very much like your problem was like mine.

    1. Also, how much corn syrup did you use. You mentioned "a tiny bit." Was it a few drops? A tsp? More? And when did you add it? I have the most success when using this method:

      Make wet sand
      Bring to a boil
      Add invert sugar (i.e.corn syrup, glucose)

      I use about 2 tbsp corn syrup per cup of sugar.

      Are you deglazing the caramel with a little water before pouring it into the ramekins? I like to make a fairly dark caramel, pull it off heat, and then deglaze with water.

      You can also put a tea-towel in the bottom of the water bath pan so the bottom of the ramekins have a little more insulation, which will help the caramel from continuing to cook.

      Report back if you try again!

      4 Replies
      1. re: Non Cognomina

        I used maybe a teaspoon of corn syrup to 1 and 1/2 Cu of sugar and 1/2 C of water. I know I didn't over carmalize, in fact I under carmalize. My sugar was very very blond.

        I didn't do any deglazing, just pour into the raminkins. I used eight raminkins, so pershaps I just didn't have enough carmal.

        I used C&H sugar, which I assume is cane sugar. I've made other carmal products before, candy, praline and never had trouble. I was just wondering why the sugar harden and didn't remelt even when the flan was baking.

        1. re: OnceUponABite

          If you don't deglaze, then the sugar will harden--it is past the hard crack state when it starts to turn brown around 320 degrees F. The sugar concentration at this temperature is 100%: all of the water has been boiled out of the sugar. If you deglaze with water, the sugar syrup is rehydrated and will not harden immediately upon pouring into the ramekins. It hardened immediately because the caramelized sugar syrup was cooled very quickly. Caramelized sugar, when cooled, is solid.

          There are two reasons that your caramel didn't remelt when the flan was baking:

          1. The sugar didn't get hot enough to re-liquify. It would have needed to get above 320 degrees F, the temperature at which a 100% sugar solution will melt. For this to have happened, your flan would have been ruined.

          2. No liquid was able to dissolve/dilute the sugar solution because there was not enough time. If you had topped one of the sugar bottomed ramekins with cold water and let it sit for a few hours or more you would have been able to swirl or stir the water and see the sugar had dissolved even though both the sugar and water were cold. Even caramelized sugar is hygroscopic (attracts water) but it needs time.

          1. re: Non Cognomina

            Your explaination makes perfect sense. For some reason I thought I had made flan before and it worked fine without water deglazing. But that was a long time ago and with a different recipe...

            So next time, I will definitely keep all the advice I got this time!

            This board rocks.

            1. re: Non Cognomina

              "... needed to get above 320 degrees F, the temperature at which 100% sure solution will melt..."

              While sugar certainly caramelizes at 300+ it doesn't need to be nearly 320F for it to melt. I melt sugar using no water -- and it's not instantly caramel once it melts, it needs to get much hotter than that. I've made Flan before without "deglazing" the sugar -- it was as hard as a rock when it cooled in the pan and it turned out fine.

        2. My guess is that you cooked the sugar/carmel too long, or should have thined it with water like Nom cognomina suggested... the darker carmelized sugar gets the harder it is, AKA hard crack in candymaking.
          And you don't mention using a waterbath... if this step was missed then the carmel coating would have baked too hot and firmed up more.
          Candy is on to something there with the beet sugar theory.
          Please, more information...

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ida Red

            There was an article in the SF Chronicle a few years ago. Someone posted the link on the old CH Hc board. At the Chronicle they tested the same recipes side by side using beet and cane sugars. The can sugars turned out superior products eah and every time. Better crumb in baked goods etc.

            My disaster was with a rustic skillet baked apple cake with caramel sauce. The cake was okay but not as quite as good or tender as I would have liked and of course this was something I was taking to dinner with friends. I turned the cake out and cut it and had heated the caramel sauce to pool under the cake. The sauce glued the forks to the plates. The rest of the beet (store brand cheaper) sugar became hummingbird food.

            Going back to cane I have never had a problem like that since. I really was embarassed and figured out the problem quickly. I have been making flans and caramel sauces for over 30 years and never had something like that happen before. Once burned was lesson enough.

            1. re: Ida Red

              I did use a water bath. And I definitely didn't overcook the sugar, in fact I was worried that I undercook and therefore could be the trouble. My carmal was very light. My pan was dark so I couldn't tell how dark the sugar was and I didn't want to burn it. And by the time I pour into the white raminkins, and saw it was too light, I was too lazy to start again!

              I baked at 325 for 40 minutes. Can it be that it didn't bake hot enough so the sugar couldn't melt? As soon as the sugar hit the cold raminkin, it harden up to a candy. I just thought after the flan went in and baked, it'd melt, but it didn't.

            2. You've gotten some good troubleshooting ideas already. I've made flan numerous times w/ consistent success using a recipe from the SF Chronicle cookbook. I've found that there's always a thin, hard layer of caramel that sticks to the bottom but that there's a good amount of caramel so enough will turn out. In fact the recipe instructs: "The bottom of the pan will have a hard layer of caramel still on it. Don't worry, it always does. That's why Latin cooks make extra caramel."

              What are the amounts in your caramel and how many ramekins is it divided into? My recipe uses 1.75 cups sugar and doesn't call for any water or corn syrup. This is for a 2-qt. high-sided mold that serves 12-14. If I convert this for individual ramekins, I think I fill about 10 ramekins.

              I caramelize the sugar over med. heat til it turns rich golden brown. It doesn't sound like you took your caramel too far.

              Prior to inverting, I usually dip the ramekin in some warm water to loosen (along w/ running a knife around the edge), which aids the caramel in oozing.

              Good luck w/ your next try and please report back.

              1. A really easy way to make a pouring caramel for desserts like flan is to boil 2 c sugar with one cup water (corn syrup is really not necessary, especially if you have a good, hot gas burner, if not, you can add a tiny bit of cream of tarter, and cover the saucepan to encourage melting of the sugar crystals for the first few minutes of boiling).
                Once you've achieved the color you want (darker is better!) pull saucepan off heat and carefully add an additional cup of water. This will splatter and boil up wickedly so be careful (hint: put pot in sink).
                Give it a little stir, cool and pour into ramekins/molds/whatever. Keeps forever if you have extra, and with the addition of fruit puree or juice, you'll have a nice sauce. I like to add a tiny bit of salt whenever I make caramel like this, and sometimes a split vanilla bean is nice too.

                10 Replies
                1. re: rabaja

                  Interesting method: by starting with 2c sugar and 1c water, wouldn't it take a long cooking to get to the dark caramel stage? couldn't one start with less water? Also by adding back 1c of water back to the caramel, would some of the caramel harden? would it also make the caramel too light and thin for flans?

                  1. re: PBSF

                    I have made caramel for flans in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and used patience. No water and no syrup of any sort. The sugar will melt and caramelize on its own. Don't stir it or mess with it until you start to see it take on some color and then swirl the pan to blend or if you must stir lightly with a wooden pan. Then watech it carefully because it can go from dark to burnt quickly. It was how I learned to do it long ago and has never let me down except for the *$##%^& beet sugar.

                    1. re: Candy

                      I've made caramel without any water and have never had any problems. I was just intrigued the previous post's method.

                      1. re: PBSF

                        I have made flan for years with great results. I caramelize my sugar right in the glass baking dish I use (a pie plate for a large flan), in the oven. It takes awhile, but there's no wasted caramel, nor a sticky pan to wash. At 400 F, it usually takes the 1/2-2/3 C of sugar I put in the dish about 25 minutes to brown. I watch it closely the last ten minutes, stirring the melted portions (only!) to keep any one spot from getting too brown. When it's all caramelized, I take the dish out of the oven and let it cool slightly. I place it in a larger pie plate with about 1 1/2 C water in it for my water bath. I then pour the egg filling in gently. Often, you can hear the caramel cracking underneath. After baking and cooling, when I flip the flan out on a serving dish, there is often a thin layer of caramel that does not re-liquefy, but sometimes there's none at all.

                        The biggest problem I have (and I'd love advice on this!) is that my baking times are so inconsistent. Sometimes the flan is done and beautiful at 35 minutes. Other times, I have to bake for nearly an hour, and by then there is a pretty heavy skin on top, which I don't like. Same recipe, same oven . . . could it be the eggs? Or am I not as consistent as I think I am in my measuring?

                        Also, I often find that the sides of the flan are speckled with air bubbles. Does this mean my oven is too hot, or that I've overcooked the flan? Does the flan continue to cook, out of the oven and still in the waterbath, sufficiently that I could remove it if the knife I insert halfway doesn't come out quite clean?

                        1. re: lchaston

                          I wonder if the inconsistent cooking time has anything to do with the amount of water in the water bath..

                          1. re: souschef

                            It might, but since I use the same baking dishes every time, and fill them with the same amount of water, I don't see how it could be.

                            I did just read another post, addressing the bubbles in the sides of the flan -- she said her abuela told her to never let the water in the water bath come to a boil -- to add ice to the water bath to bring its temperature down. This makes sense to me -- the custard is cooked by the oven heat, not by the heat of the water; the water is there to protect the delicate flan. I'm going to try baking the flan next time in a much larger water bath pan, with the water up to the level of the custard, but follow this tip and see -- maybe I'll solve both my problems at once!

                            Thanks so much for responding -- I so appreciate it!!!

                            1. re: lchaston

                              More questions, and I am clutching at straws here (I am curious as to why the time is inconsistent for you but consistent for me):

                              - Do you always have the pan on the same shelf in the oven?
                              - Do you always use the same size eggs?
                              - Do you always heat the milk to the same point? Perhaps you should try using a thermometer as a test.

                      2. re: Candy

                        my mother-in-law used to make pancake syrup this way. She must have cooked it longer than you, she called it "burnt- sugar syrup. It was delicious!

                      3. re: PBSF

                        You could certainly use less water to start, and it would go faster but the ratio listed ensures all of the sugar crystals get wet and melt together. If you put the water in first, then add your sugar it all melts easily. You're not talking about a large quantity of sugar, so no, it doesn't take very long at all. Turn your burner up and it goes fairly fast, actually.
                        When you add back the water you do need to stir it to incorporate everything. As long as you don't wait to whisk it together(if it cooled, there would be a problem)it should be an even consistency, and once cooled, pour in a thick stream.
                        When you take the initial caramel far enough, adding water off the heat will still yield a nice dark caramel, that is the perfect consistency for flan, creme caramel, etc.
                        I've done this for years, both at home and in restaurant kitchens, it has worked very well for me.

                        1. re: rabaja

                          Thanks for the explanation. I'll have to give it a try.

                    2. I use the sugar and water method (no corn syrup), and do not add water at the end. Works every time for me. The caramel does not harden instantly; I have time to swirl it around to coat the bottom (I use one large dish). There is always a little bit of caramel left on the bottom after I turn it out. Darn....now I have to go make some; I love the smooth texture. I don't usually believe in the concept of "comfort food" as that is what makes people fat, but a nice flan IS comforting.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: souschef

                        I do the same as souschef although I still use a sugar thermometer to be sure when it's ready. The recipe I do has the temp listed. Otherwise I would get is wrong all the time. How do you tell when it's done, colour or by the bubbles?

                        1. re: PicklingJessica

                          By the colour. It's not always the same colour, but that hardly matters. I find that I have to let it colour for a little longer than I think as I use a copper sugar boiler and it is hard to judge the colour.

                      2. Have you considered making the flan in a deep pan, and then serving it in slices, like a cake? I'll call it Cuban-style, for lack of a better term.

                        You simply throw sugar into the bottom of the pan until it dissolves and bubbles. Make sure to swirl it all around and coat the sides as well. Throw it into the fridge until you see little veins cracking throughout. This doesn't take long, then pour in your mixture, bake at 350 until a toothpick comes out clean. No water, no corn syrup. Refrigerate, invert it onto a dinner plate, and you're done.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Steve

                          That's how I do it, Steve! Works great. I don't even refrigerate the caramel -- it cools so quickly at room temperature, I've never needed to.

                        2. I have a different problem than discussed. I've made perfect flan caramel before - nice amber and delicious. This time both attempts failed. Barely yellow in color and then it dried up in the pan and got crumbly. Obviously it went too long on the stove but why didn't it turn darker. The 3rd attempt was also a failure because I was afraid to cook it too long so I settled on very light color. After baking the flan it was still runny and without much flavor. The custard was fine. What caused the crumbs and no color?

                          1. I have a totally different problem re flan. It has only been happening recently.
                            My flan is flat...instead of standing, say 3/4 of an inch, it's only 1/2 inch.
                            Can you tell me what's going on? Everyone still raves about the flavor, but I am not pleased with how it looks!