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Tips for making Flan

I am going to make my first attempt at making Flan this weekend to bring as a dessert to a chili cookoff party. Are there any special tips or tricks to this dessert? I have never carmalized sugar before and I am a little intimitated at the prospect. Is it better to raise the temp gradually or can I just set the stove on high right off of the bat? Whould using a thermometer be beneficial or is it fairly easy to eyeball it based on color? Should I cover the flan when baking? Any help/advice would be appreciated. TIA

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  1. I'm anxious to see how other hounds respond as my greatest cooking disaster ever was pumpkin flan one year for Thanksgiving. It became part of family folklore. Thankfully we had a few other desserts.

    1. If you have, or can get your hands on, Penelope Casas's Foods and Wines of Spain, she has a foolproof recipe for flan. I make it often to serve with paella and have never had a problem with it.

      It's quite easy to eyeball the color of the caramel. If you've never made it before, I'd start out with a moderate heat source. Once it starts to color, it gets dark quite quickly so it does need to be watched. But I've never used a thermometer.
      It does not need to be covered.

      It can also be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Just loosen the sides of the flan with a knife and invert onto a dish to serve.

      Don't have the book here, but if you'd like a paraphrase let me know and I'll post it later this evening.

      1. A basic flan is pretty simple to make. First do your self a favor and make sure you are using 100% pure cane sugar IE Domino or C&H...if you don't know what you have because you put the stuff in a cannister and through the box away go buy cane sugar. The cheaper stuff just marked sugar or pure sugar etc. is beet sugar and it does not work well for this. Then put the required amount of sugar in a heavy casr iron skilet or deep pan. Put it on the range burner over med. heat and leave it alone for awhile. This takes patience. The sugar will start to melt slowly and begin to take on color. You might be tempted to stir it but it is better to swirl the pan as the sugar caramelizes. If you need to, take a wet pastry brush to brush down any sugar crystals clinging to the sides of the pan (this is why I prefer a casr iron skillet)when it starts taking on color start watching it carefully. Take it off the heat just before you think it is at peak color it will darken from the residual heat and can burn quickly. Pour it in your flan mold being very careful not to splash any on your skin you can't imagine how caramel cak burn skin.

        If your recipe does not call for it another tip is to strain the custard well. You get a much silkier custard and don't cook it too fast, use a water bath. A baked custard that has baked too quickly will have holes from bubbles in it, a rubbery texture and also gets weepy form the eggs cooking too quickly

        3 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          Just to confirm what Candy said, be VERY VERY careful when pouring and/or swirling your caramelized sugar--my first attempt at flan sent me to the emergency room (another proud kitchen battle scar)! No need for a thermometer, you'll be able to eyeball the rich caramel color. No need to cover--do make sure you bake it in a water bath though. Good luck and enjoy!

          1. re: Candy

            Agree with everything you've said, Candy, but I'd recommend against a beginner using a cast iron skillet. It makes it much more difficult to judge the color of the caramel. And because its so much heavier, its that much more difficult to lift and pour the caramel into custard cups (if that's what the OP plans to do). I'd suggest using either a stainless steel or enamel saucepan at least until one has a sense of how quickly the sugar takes on color and is better able to judge when the optimum golden color has been reached.

            1. re: JoanN

              Just habit to me. The first time I made it, mid'70's and I did not know that stuff like that was supposed to be tricky it just made sense to me to use my old 8" cast iron skillet with pouring lips. I made a lot of stuff back then without a second thought, puff pastry was another. I think sometimes we think about this stuff too much and worry our selves silly. Souffles where another. Just get in there and do it.

          2. I don't use liitle cups, molds, or ramekins, I just make one giant flan in a heavy pot/ deep skillet. I melt sugar just as Candy says and swirl the pan so all surfaces are coated. No utensils for this. I then set the burnt sugar in to the fridge until it sets and a nice array of spidery cracks form. I pour in my mixture, set the pan in a water bath in a 350 degree oven (no need to cover)until a toothpick comes out clean. I'd check the oven at 30 minutes and every five minutes after that. The toothpick should come out clean yet the flan should still be quite wobbly. Chill and invert onto a large platter.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Steve

              Yes, this is something like the method I've used, see:

              My caramelizing anxieties were relieved by this recipe that has you heat the sugar right in a cake pan on the burner. The caramel gets hard but is then melted by the flan as it sits overnight in the fridge.

              And remember, it's only a little sugar. If it doesn't go right, wash up and start over.

              1. re: Steve

                The best flans I used to make were baked in a Pyrex angel food baker. Unfortunately I dropped it and broke it and they are no longer made. It was something my mother got in the 50's. But it produced some of the best creamiest flan and it was easy to slice and serve too and looked pretty when the flan was inverted onto a plate with the caramel all around.

              2. From Charlie Trotter's cookbook, he recommends adding 1 tbs of corn syrup to prevent the sugar from burning too fast when making the burnt sugar.

                1. when caramelizing the sugar.. i think it's best to use a non-reactive saucepan. from my experience.. i would put the amt of sugar suggested in the saucepan first.. and then add the water until it looks like "wet sand" making sure with a wet pastry brush.. to brush off any sugar granuals off the side of the pot (if you don't, it can cause crystalization) turn on the flame on high and let it do it's thing. make sure you leave it alone and try not to stir it. Problem Child stated to add 1 Tbsp of corn syrup.. so basically ur adding an invert sugar to ensure that you don't crystalize the sugar instead of creating caramel (that's another option). I usually just eyeball the color.. like semi-dark amber.. just make sure you don't walk away from the pot of caramel.. it can burn on you pretty quickly. and make sure you don't get it too dark.. because it continues to cook while off the heat.

                  and for the custard.. use a waterbath!
                  bake until it slightly jiggles in the center
                  let it cool down chill in the fridge for at least 4+ hours i would say (so it sets up) and unmold using a paring knife

                  1. Hey Bugmenot
                    I've made a lot of flan. It was one of the desserts at my restaurant.
                    Making the caramel is a confidence thing. The 1st few times add some water to slow things down and get a feel for it. Later just melt the sugar in the pot over direct heat. It's fast and it's the way my Mexican friend taught me.
                    I use a stainless pot, with plenty of room for some "bubbling up" action.
                    I am also a single pan guy, usually using a pyrex 9" pie dish and I cut wedges.
                    I always make double the caramel the recipe calls for and I keep 2 cups of water and a pastry brush on hand to brush down the sides. Once the caramel is ready I pour half into my pan and then quickly (and carefully) add about a cup of water to the remaining caramel in the pan. This is dangerous, the 1st time wear protective gloves so you can be ready for explosive splatter. I then boil this down to a thin syrup. The reason is that the "sauce" in the flan pan is usually contaminated with little bits of custard. So, when serving, I squeeze this caramel sauce over the flan pieces. I make it thick enough to be able to dress up the plates a bit with some flourishes.
                    I also have one other unusual bit of advice. I use the egg whites too.
                    Quite often, despite my best efforts, the flan can have an unpalatable skin on top.
                    The trick I learned is that once the custard mixture is ready to pour into the pan, stop and beat the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed. Add this to the custard and stir/fold it in. The reason is that the foam rises to the top and and as the custard cooks in the water bath the top always has a tender and palatable skin. and never goes shiny and hard.
                    Ask me nicely and I'll give post the recipe.
                    Da Cook

                    1. i've made lots of flan. i also suggest not using a thermometer. just watch it carefully. this is not the time to start other projects while making caramel. keep your eye on it and the minute it looks dark enough, pour it quickly into the pan you plan to bake the caramel in. it continues to cook and can burn rapidly which will make your flan taste burnt. yuckie.

                      and like someone said, if its burnt, you can always redo it. its just a bit of sugar:)

                      and for the custard.. use a waterbath!
                      bake until it slightly jiggles in the center. like jello....
                      let it cool down then chill in the fridge for at least 4+ hours or overnight. its a good make-ahead dessert. and unmold using a paring knife. flip it onto the serving plate. and done.
                      be careful not to overcook it in the oven. you will get airholes and just a yuckie consistency.


                      1. While making caramel is fun for me, and I can judge the colour exactly by now, it's a bit nerve-wracking, putting something on the stove that by all rights ought to be burning and is essentially 350-degree napalm.

                        That said, just eyeball the colour. If you pull it when it's a bit light, as long as you don't stir it, you can put it back on immediately, or just live with a slightly less "caramelly" taste. You'll smell it when it's going to burn. Use a pan with high sides and you'll be less likely to slop it out on yourself.

                        If you're really intimidated, may I suggest making dulce de leche instead? Take a (14-ounce) can of condensed milk -- not evaporated -- put it in a pie plate, cover with foil, and bake for an hour at 425F. After you take it out (it'll be the right colour), pour it into something sturdier and whip it until it's smooth and caramelly.