Caramel Flan

4.5 stars based on 109 votes
Tested & Perfected Recipes
Caramel Flan

Flan is a rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. It looks fancy, but it’s actually quite simple to make.

Flan

Michael and I had dinner recently at a traditional Brazilian steakhouse or churrascaria. While the open fire-roasted meat was delicious, the flan we shared for dessert was our favorite part of the meal. Flan, also known as crème caramel, is a rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. It’s similar to the French custard dessert, crème brûlée, only it is a bit denser and, instead of the brittle caramel top, the caramel is liquid.

Flan is one of those desserts that looks intimidating to make, but it’s actually quite simple. The key is to bake the flan in a water bath, which regulates the temperature and evenly distributes gentle heat around the flan, ensuring that the eggs don’t curdle.

To recreate a Brazilian flan at home, I tried at least a half-dozen recipes. This classic Latin flan adapted from Cook’s Illustrated was my favorite. It’s prepared in a loaf pan rather than a wide cake pan, so it’s easy to unmold without breaking. And since it’s made up to four days ahead of time, it’s the perfect dessert for company.

What You’ll Need to Make Caramel Flan

ingredients for flan

To make this Latin-style flan, you’ll need three different types of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and whole milk.  If you don’t have whole milk, you can substitute 2% or half-and-half, but skim is not recommended. The splash of bourbon is my addition to the recipe — it adds nice depth of flavor — but if you’d like to omit it, simply increase the vanilla by two teaspoons.

Since the recipe calls for 2 whole eggs and 5 egg yolks, you’ll have lots of leftover egg whites. If you’re looking for easy and delicious ways to use them up, check out my forgotten kisses (chocolate chip meringue cookies) and coconut macaroons.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Make the caramel
bringing sugar and water mixture to a boil

Stir the sugar and 1/4 cup water together in a medium saucepan until the sugar is completely moistened. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, without stirring. Continue cooking until the mixture begins to turn golden.

sugar and water mixture turning golden colorGently swirling the pan, continue to cook until sugar is a pale honey color.

sugar and water mixture turning honey color

Remove from the heat and swirl the pan until the sugar is a reddish-amber color and fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds.

sugar and water mixture turning to a caramel color

Carefully swirl in 2 tablespoons of warm tap water until incorporated – be careful as the mixture will bubble and steam. The water helps thin the caramel, so it doesn’t all stick to the pan after the flan bakes in the oven.

bubbling caramel after adding water

Pour the caramel into 8½ x 4½-inch loaf pan and set aside. The caramel will harden in the pan.

caramel poured into loaf pan

Step 2: Make the custard

Whisk together the eggs and egg yolks in large bowl.

whisked eggs and egg yolks in mixing bowl

Add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, vanilla, Bourbon, and salt and whisk until incorporated.

whisked custard mixture in mixing bowl

Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a larger bowl. The strainer will catch little bits of egg that you don’t want in your flan.

strained custard in bowl

Pour the strained custard into the loaf pan over the caramel.

custard poured into loaf pan and ready to bake

Step 3: Bake

Place the loaf pan in the center of a 9×13-inch baking or roasting pan (preferably with high sides) to make a water bath. Place the nested pans in the oven; using a tea kettle or pitcher, pour hot water around the loaf pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. The purpose of the water bath is to moderate the heat and ensure that the mixture cooks evenly into a smooth and creamy custard. (Cheesecake uses the same technique.)

Bake the flan for 75 to 90 minutes, until the custard is set around the edges but still a bit jiggly in the center. The custard should not be completely set when it is removed from the oven; it will continue to cook as it cools. Remove the pans from the oven and leave the flan in the water bath for about one hour to cool.

baked flan cooling in water bath

Step 4: Chill and Unmold the Flan

Remove the loaf pan from water bath, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill overnight or up to 4 days. To unmold the flan, carefully slide a knife around the edges of the pan.

loosening flan from pan with knifeInvert a platter with a raised rim on top of the flan and turn the pan and platter over. If it doesn’t release immediately, let it sit inverted for a minute and it should eventually slide out. Remove the loaf pan and, using a rubber spatula, scrape the residual caramel over the flan. You won’t be able to release all of it – that’s okay. Slice the flan and spoon the sauce over the individual servings. Serve with berries, if you like.

Flan

Caramel Flan

Flan is a rich, sweet custard topped with caramel sauce. It looks fancy, but it’s actually quite simple to make.

Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour 50 Minutes, plus an overnight chill in the refrigerator

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs plus 5 yolks
  • 1 (14-oz) can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (12-oz) can evaporated milk
  • ½ cup whole milk (half-and-half or 2% milk may be substituted but do not use skim milk)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Bourbon (see note)
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. (This recipe should be made at least one day before serving.) Adjust a rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300°F.
  2. Stir together the sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small heavy saucepan until the sugar is completely moistened. Bring to boil over medium-high heat and cook, without stirring, until the mixture begins to turn golden. Gently swirling the pan, continue to cook until sugar is a honey color. Remove from the heat and swirl the pan until the sugar is reddish-amber and fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Carefully swirl in 2 tablespoons of warm tap water until incorporated – be careful as the mixture will bubble and steam. This whole process should take less than 10 minutes.
  3. Pour the caramel into an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan; do not scrape out the saucepan. (Note: The caramel will solidify when you pour it into the loaf pan. That's ok -- it will soften up again as it bakes.) Set the loaf pan aside. (To clean the hardened caramel from the saucepan, fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil.)
  4. Whisk the eggs and yolks in large bowl until combined. Add the sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, whole milk, vanilla, Bourbon, and salt and whisk until incorporated. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl to remove any bits of egg; then pour the strained custard into the loaf pan over the caramel. Cover the loaf pan tightly with aluminum foil.
  5. Place the loaf pan in the center of a 9x13-inch baking or roasting pan (preferably with high sides) to make a water bath. Place the nested pans in the oven; then, using a tea kettle or pitcher, pour hot water around the loaf pan until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for 75 to 90 minutes, until the custard is set around the edges but still a bit jiggly in the center. (Don’t worry that it seems undercooked. The custard will continue to cook as it cools, and the center will set completely -- I promise!) Carefully remove the pans from the oven. Remove the foil and leave the flan in the water bath for 1 hour to cool.
  6. Remove the loaf pan from the water bath and wipe the pan dry. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge overnight or up to 4 days.
  7. To unmold the flan, carefully slide a sharp knife around the edges of the pan. Invert a platter with a raised rim (to contain the liquid caramel) on top of the flan and turn the pan and platter over. If the flan doesn’t release immediately, let it sit inverted for a minute and it should slide out. If it still doesn't come out, try running the knife around the edges again. When the flan is released, remove the loaf pan. Using rubber spatula, scrape the residual caramel onto the platter. You won’t be able to release all of the caramel – that’s okay. Slice the flan and spoon the sauce over individual portions. (Leftover flan may be covered loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 4 days.)
  8. Note: If you would like to omit the Bourbon, replace with an additional 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Serving size: 1 slice
  • Calories: 249
  • Fat: 7 g
  • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 39 g
  • Sugar: 39 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Sodium: 224 mg
  • Cholesterol: 61 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you're following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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Reviews & Comments

  • Made this for Sunday afternoon tea. Followed recipe exactly but subbed out Grand Marnier for the bourbon and baked in 6 ramekins. Served it with some orange sections (supremes) on the side. Heaven on a plate. Rich, creamy and looks beautiful. Better yet – a great make ahead dessert.

    • — Dawn on August 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I plan to bring this to a dinner party. Can I unmold it at home before I go even though it won’t be served for 3-4 hours? Or should I wait an unmold it just nefore serving?

    • — Anne on August 11, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, Anne, that’s fine. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on August 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • Not A Fan of the Flan.
    Cloyingly sweet and it completely collapsed even though I baked it for the maximum time and refrigerated overnight.

    • — Priscilla on June 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • Amazing, I did something wrong tho. The flan was perfect and the caramel mostly delicious, but there was a sheet of caramelized sugar on top. I pulled it off and it was a rectangle sugar sheet. What did I do? Still rave about it but I don’t want to mess it up again. Served with Bourbon soaked mango slices.

    • — MaryAnn on June 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi MaryAnn, that is a head-scratcher — I’ve never heard of that happening! Did you make any adjustments to the recipe?

      • — Jenn on June 16, 2021
      • Reply
      • No. Im confused. I wonder if I cooked the sugar too long. Trying again tomorrow.

        • — MaryAnn on June 18, 2021
        • Reply
  • The flan was the star ⭐️ of my Argentinian dinner party! Perfection.

    • — Janet Meyer on June 15, 2021
    • Reply
  • If I made this recipe in an 8 in. springform pan, should I double or triple the recipe? What about baking time?

    • — Lexie Tsikouris on May 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Lexie, I actually wouldn’t change the quantities; you will just have a shorter flan in a round pan. The cook time may be a bit less; I would just keep an eye on it.

      • — Jenn on May 29, 2021
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn. My mom would love a warm flan for her birthday. Can this flan be served warm after baking, or is it imperative to refrigerate overnight? Thanks so much.

    • — KG on May 8, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi KG, I’ve never eaten flan without refrigerating it, but I think it can be done. If you’d like to try it, I’d let it sit and cool for a few minutes after removing it from the oven so it can continue to firm up (it still cooks for a few minutes after coming out of the oven).

      • — Jenn on May 10, 2021
      • Reply
  • Do I grease my loaf pan

    • — Ann Brown on April 29, 2021
    • Reply
    • No, it’s not necessary here. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on April 29, 2021
      • Reply

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