Leche Flan Lessons

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Flan is the Sean “Puffy” Combs of the dessert world – it’s rich, decadent, and goes by a few different aliases: Crème Caramel, Caramel Custard, Flan de Leche, and Leche Flan.

Despite its multiple monikers, Flan is more or less a caramel-topped, custard-based dessert that is prepared using the same simple ingredients of eggs, milk, and sugar.  Why all the different names for the same dessert?  Well, with Flan, it ain’t where you from, it’s where you at. (That last sentence did not sound as cool as I thought it would. Dork!)

For instance, Flan is the general term used for this sweet treat in the U.S. (Mmm-mmm tasty!) and Spain (Delicioso!).  In the U.K., Flan is called Caramel Custard (Right-o chap!), and in France they refer to it as Crème Caramel (Uhhh, um, ménage a trois?).  Our friends in Latin America may order Flan de Leche at the end of a meal (!Muy sabroso!).  And of course, in my household, and in households in the Philippines, we refer to this dessert as Leche Flan (Sarap!).  Whew (I am amazed by my awesome multilingualness!)!

Leche Flan is one of the many legacies of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines.  And in the Philippines, Leche Flan is usually prepared using either Carabao’s (water buffalo) milk, or a combination of canned condensed milk and canned evaporated milk.  Canned milk is used out of convenience, but because of the tropical climate in the Philippines, it is also used (I assume) because it doesn’t spoil as readily as fresh milk.

My grandmother’s recipe for Leche Flan calls for a can each of condensed milk and evaporated milk, a dozen egg yolks, some sugar, and some vanilla.  Conversely, my mother (AKA Lightning Lumpia) uses regular old cow’s milk.

Also, instead of baking individual servings in separate ramekins, than say, the French would do with Crème Caramel, Leche Flan is usually prepared in large pans called Llaneras.  My grandmother and mother just use round cake pans to make their Leche Flan.  After baking, they would then turn the Leche Flan out of its pan and slice it into individual servings.

Since I had plenty of milk and half-and-half, and neither canned nor Carabao’s milk, I decided to make my own version of Leche Flan.  I do plan on making my grandmother’s more traditional version sometime in the future, as it is one of my favorites that she makes.  My grandmother’s version is particularly sweet and rich, and I’d be interested to taste test real milk vs. canned milk Leche Flans some day.

[By the way, I just realized how strange it is that I decided to use milk and half-and-half because that is what is convenient for me, rather than canned milk being convenient.  Is that ironic?  I’m not sure.  My sense of irony is lackluster. Damn you Alanis! Damn you straight to hell!]

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Anyhoo, I also didn’t want to make one huge flan-in-a-pan like my mother or grandmother, I instead made individual servings in ramekins because it would be easier to store and serve for my wife and I.

One last thing I should mention before getting to the recipe: To prevent overcooking, and thus curdling the eggs in your Leche Flan, it should be baked in a water bath.  In other words, the vessels containing the Leche Flan itself should be placed in a larger vessel (i.e. a large roasting pan) filled with boiling water.  Why the all the trouble with the water bath?  To answer this, because I was wondering too, I cracked open my trusty copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, a venerable food science bible.  According to McGee, since the water in the water bath cannot heat past 212 degrees Fahrenheit, anything in the pan that the water is touching cannot reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit as well, even in a 350-degree oven!  Therefore, the water bath allows for the very gentle cooking of the Leche Flan and prevents overcooking. I’m blinding you with science aren’t I?  On to the recipe!

Leche Flan
Yields 8 servings (using 8 1-cup ramekins)

For the caramel:
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup water

For the Custard:
3 cups whole milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup sugar, divided
1 pinch salt
4 large eggs
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before making the caramel, be sure your ramekins are arranged and ready so that you can quickly pour the caramel into them as soon as the caramel comes together.

To make the caramel, place the ¾ cup sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Pour the water over the sugar and quickly stir just to incorporate.  Continue to heat the sugar and water, swirling the pan every so often, until a clear syrup forms, about 4-5 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the sugar to a boil.  Continue to cook until the sugar reaches an amber color.  Remove from heat.  Quickly pour equal amounts of the caramel into each of the ramekins, turning the ramekins so that they are evenly coated.  The caramel will harden in the ramekins, this is OK.  Set aside while preparing the custard.

Place the milk, half-and-half, and a half-cup of sugar in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  When the milk mixture reaches a simmer, lower heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs and egg yolks in a large mixing bowl.  Slowly add the last half-cup of sugar to the eggs while whisking.  Continue to whisk eggs until sugar is incorporated and eggs lighten in color.

When the milk mixture has cooled to warm, temper the eggs with the milk by slowly adding, one ladle at a time, the milk mixture to the eggs, whisking continuously.  After all of the milk has been incorporated into the eggs, stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into another bowl (preferably a bowl with a spout).

Bring a pot of water to a boil.

Fold a clean kitchen towel and place in the bottom of a large roasting pan (this will keep the ramekins from sliding in the pan. If you have a Silpat pad, that works even better than the towel).  Place the ramekins onto the kitchen towel in the large roasting pan, there should be at least an inch of space between the ramekins.  Pour equal amounts of the custard mixture into each ramekin.

Open the oven and place the roasting pan on the oven door.  Carefully pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until the water level reaches at least 1 ½ inches deep.  Place the roasting pan into the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the custards barely wobble in the center of the ramekins when the pan is jiggled.  You can also check doneness by inserting a paring knife halfway between the center of the custard and the edge of the ramekin; if the knife comes out clean, the Leche Flan is done.

Remove the Leche Flan from the roasting pan and allow to cool to room temperature.  Then cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

To serve, run a paring knife around the Leche Flans and place the ramekin in a shallow dish of hot water for 1 minute.  Unmold the Leche Flan by inverting it onto a serving dish.

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  • John Steele May 15, 2007, 11:23 am

    I don’t really like flan, never was my favorite, but I enjoy your site. Were the pictures supposed to have the strawberry moving around the plate, kind of like in a Where’s Waldo? sort of way? Or did you keep it in the same spot and just rotate the plate? Very perplexing. Keep up the bueno trabajo. I, too, am multilingual.

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  • faye May 15, 2007, 1:14 pm

    oh man…i stumbled upon this from tastespotting, and seeing a recipe for leche flan reminds me of my mom’s!

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  • Ricecake May 15, 2007, 3:24 pm

    Yay! I was just in the Philippines to celebrate a friends wedding and they were nice enough to let me help prepare the leche flan. We used both nonfat dry milk and sweetened condensed milk. Masarap!

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  • TeddyKim May 15, 2007, 3:42 pm

    I never knew flan was a Filipino dish, but I guess it makes sense with the connection to Spain. Great explanation of the water bath too. I always see people do that on TV, but I never know exactly why.

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  • Burnt Lumpia May 16, 2007, 8:11 am

    John, Flan is good, you should give it another try. And I was just trying to take different pictures of the plate.
    Faye, I’m glad you stumbled to this site, welcome!
    Ricecake, I forgot about dried milk. I’m sure any kind of “leche” makes a good flan.
    TK, yes, I always wonder about how things like that work in the kitchen. Luckily, Harold McGee has most of the answers.

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  • Christian May 17, 2007, 12:57 am

    All sorts of interesting flan photos here in my blog:
    http://ocmexfood.blogspot.com/search?q=flan
    http://ocmexfood.blogspot.com/2006/04/flan-glorious-flan.html
    You’ll have to scroll through some non-flan (does the use of “non-flan” make me a poet?) photos but don’t let that stop you.

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  • Burnt Lumpia May 17, 2007, 7:07 pm

    Wow Christian, you have consumed quite a bit of flan. I’m surprised you haven’t tired of it yet.

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  • Wandering Chopsticks May 18, 2007, 1:45 am

    Marvin!
    The Vietnamese have flan too. Although, your version looks much nicer than mine.

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  • Brilynn May 24, 2007, 9:38 pm

    I think flan is probably tastier than P Diddy, but I enjoyed the reference!

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  • Burnt Lumpia May 26, 2007, 6:13 am

    WC, what is the Vietnamese version called? I guess flan is more world-wide than I thought.
    Brilynn, I think most anything is tastier than P Diddy;)

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  • Christine May 31, 2007, 9:12 am

    I really enjoyed this post! Aside from the fact that I love flan and yours had me drooling, this post made me laugh! :)

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  • Burnt Lumpia May 31, 2007, 12:50 pm

    Thanks Christine! I’m glad I can make you laugh.

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  • Sannet Jumilly June 6, 2007, 2:47 am

    Bonjour,
    Really enjoy making desserts, especially pinoy leche flan…
    I am now in France and just eating too much cheese french bread and tarte of fruits….but not daily rice….
    Miss a lot like sinigang na baboy…..

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia June 6, 2007, 8:58 pm

    Hi Sannet. My wife and I will actually be visiting France for the first time in a few days. We’re very excited to sample the cheese and french bread and tarts and anything else French!

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  • clary June 25, 2007, 9:05 pm

    Hi,
    thank you for the great tips…i would LOVE to try to find and easy way to make ALOT of flans at the same time…Can you help? I need the pans, milds, pot, not sure how to call them…

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia June 30, 2007, 5:11 pm

    Hi clary. I think the easiest way to make a lot of flan at the same time would be to put the custard into a large pan, rather than in individual cups. This way, you can cut the flan to the size of your liking and get more servings out of it. I hope that helps.

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  • rookie July 23, 2007, 7:59 am

    hi. :) i tried your recipe and i have a question. is it normal for the caramel to remain stuck to the ramekin even after baking the flan? thanks.

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  • Burnt Lumpia July 23, 2007, 8:40 am

    Hi rookie. No, the caramel shouldn’t remain stuck to the ramekin after baking the flan. But did you cool the flan first before trying to unmold? And did the caramel stick in all the ramekins or just a few? I’m not exactly sure what the problem would be, but maybe you overcooked your carmel? Or it could be that my recipe is terrible, which is quite possible, although I’ve made this a few times already. Feel free to email me (burntlumpia@gmail.com) if you have more questions and I’ll do my best to help.

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  • Beth Loggins September 6, 2007, 6:20 pm

    Traditional leche flan is usually made with evaporated milk and condensed milk. This gives leche flan a heavier consistency and creamier flavor than regular flan. You can bake it in a waterbath but the traditional cooking method is steaming. The stronger the steam, the more bubbles will form in the flan (and thus a less smooth and refined texture). My personal formula is 5-1-1 (ie. 5 egg yolks, 1 c evap milk and 1 ccondensed milk).

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  • Burnt Lumpia September 6, 2007, 9:40 pm

    Hi Beth. Thanks for your wisdom. One of these days I want to make a more traditional version.

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  • Raquel September 9, 2007, 2:53 pm

    I just tried your recipe with fresh raw milk from my Jersey cow. I made sure to get lots of the cream in there too. It was delicious!!!! Reminds me of when we lived in the Philippines. :o)

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  • Burnt Lumpia September 9, 2007, 8:00 pm

    Wow Raquel, Leche Flan made with fresh raw milk straight from a cow! That must’ve been so rich and creamy. Thanks for trying my recipe and stopping by:)

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  • raissa September 14, 2007, 11:19 am

    my grandma makes it with the rind of dayap or lime. It adds a semi-tart taste but I prefer mine with vanilla. I have never made an attempt to make leche flan because its such a slow process and being spoiled by grandparents leche flan makes my relatives such leche flan snobs LOL there cant be little holes in it, it has to melt in one’s mouth. To achieve that means realllly slow cooking it.
    oh my lola has made a healthier version too by using just egg whites. It still tastes good but I want the fattening kind =)

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  • raissa September 14, 2007, 11:20 am

    oh no water bath for my lola, its cooked by steaming.

    Reply
  • joy September 14, 2007, 10:23 pm

    hi.
    love reading your blog.
    we usually cook our leche flan in a pressure cooker. it’s faster and produces same cooking results.
    we just mixing everything in bowl and sieve it by using cheese clothe.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia September 16, 2007, 10:34 pm

    hi raissa, hmmm, using dayap rind sounds like a great idea. I may have to try that sometime.
    Hi joy, I’ve never heard of cooking leche flan in a pressure cooker. But it probably would be much faster.

    Reply
  • Rinia December 29, 2007, 8:23 pm

    Have a very very old flan recipe that I have kept over the years and had tried it once. I decided to try yours after going through dozens of them bloggers recipes looking for a new flan recipe. I was not disappointed at all. It turn out creamy smooth, “milky” taste rather than eggy and just the right sweetness. Just added macapuno before pouring in custard and added an extra egg yolk to the mix. Perfect for my taste the first time. It is a keeper.

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  • Burnt Lumpia January 1, 2008, 10:17 pm

    Thanks Rinia! I’m glad the flan turned out good for you. Very good idea with the macapuno!

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  • nidhi January 23, 2008, 10:28 pm

    I want to know what can i use instead of egg, egg whites something other than egg replacer powders.
    Please do share if you have any idea what to use in flan. Usually i have read silken tofu for cakes but not sure about flan. Does custard powder works for flan?
    Awaiting for the details , as i can’t wait to try this recipe

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia January 24, 2008, 8:16 pm

    Hello nidhi. I’m sorry, but I don’t know of any replacements for egg in flan. Eggs are what gives the flan its texture, so I don’t know that it could be made without eggs. This is just a guess, but maybe you can try using gelatin instead?

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  • IvyG January 30, 2008, 10:23 am

    I really enjoy reading your blog, more power to you!

    Reply
  • lucy February 28, 2008, 2:38 pm

    please help me. i do not understand what mean in this recipe: 1 cup half-and-half. i have just returned from philippines and i really like leche flan. thanks : ))))))

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  • Zenaida July 8, 2008, 6:25 pm

    I make the most deliciour leche flan, but I am sure your recipe is good too. But my problem is some of the caramel sticks to the bottom of the pan and the rest is just fine. It does it every time. What causes it, you think?
    Zenaida

    Reply
  • krystel rocafort October 6, 2008, 1:06 am

    Bonjour monsieur! 😉
    I am a college stuDent here at the De La salle Lipa here in the phiLippines and tooking up a course related in cooking dishes. my group and I for oUr FinaL preSenTation, deCided to chooSe Flan De Leche or LecHe Flan rather to be ouR deSsert with the uSe oF y0ur saiD recipE(f0r we know that It s0und yuMmy!). But my gRoup anD i werE jusT w0ndering on what aRe thE f00d’s g0od chaRacters anD h0w we wiLL be abLe to kn0w iF whaT we d0 to the foOd is jusT ok? HopE y0u couLd repLy on this!(my e-maiL adDresS is rocafortkrystel_28@yahoo.com) ThanK y0u very muCh anD m0rE p0wer! 😉

    Reply
  • Alexis November 25, 2008, 3:30 pm

    Thanks for the flan recipe. I didnt know that you can make flan out of just plain regular milk and half n half. I always have those stock up on the fridge. My aunt use condense milk and evaporated milk but i dont always have to on hand. I’ll be trying your recipe over the holidays. Also putting the flan in ramekins, genius.

    Reply
  • WowJustWow July 3, 2009, 1:22 pm

    hahahaa I am laughing because one of your comments is left by “Beth Loggins” (that’s the punchline of a corny Filipino joke).
    Anyway – I am half Filipino and half a bunch of other stuff. I don’t cook Filipino food (because my Mother wasn’t Filipino). My Paternal Filipino Grandmother puts a bit of Lemon Rind in hers.
    According to my full Filipino husband – it really makes a difference!

    Reply
  • Lolo October 30, 2009, 10:59 am

    Lolo 1930 Says:
    ayyy
    Ka hiyain elders mo kumuha ito kabuhungan!!!!!
    Ok since your world wide web place is in Ingles I will write in Ingles .
    First off Traditional Leche Flan is made with 1- 1 1/2 cups of sugar 10-18 egg yokes, no salt you think we had salt growing up ayyy you kids
    and a table spoon of pure vanilla exstract (when we were kids we made the vanilla flavoring ourselves with real vanilla beans)
    Furthermore
    Your cooking instructions are all wrong I Lolo would know. :^(
    The way to make Leche Flan and also Spanish Flan is by open-air steaming On either an open cooking fire or Stove top/Range
    No exceptions, The reason being is because most people around the world (Especially Filipinos) Classically did not have ovens ( Read your History or talk to your elders mo).
    ayyyyy I never had an oven till my kids brought me to the states in the 1990’s.
    You kids and your oven flan how lazy!!!!!
    So to label Your recipe as Leche Flan you must have The open-air steaming On either an open cooking fire or Stove top/Range instructions only
    No exceptions
    Other wise you must label your recipe as Oven steamed Leche Flan
    ka hiyain elders mo kumuha ito kabuhungan!!!!!

    Reply
  • Mark July 28, 2010, 12:23 pm

    I love flan this looks perfect

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  • RoieAnders March 22, 2011, 10:48 am

    What is half and half? Kindly explain this to me.

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  • Marie August 28, 2011, 9:34 pm

    I love flan! I will be attempting to make my Tia’s recipie very soon. I have all of the ingredients she uses, but am hesitating to start, as I am wondering if my flan will be just as tasty as when she makes it. Her recipie calls for only 3 eggs (though seperated), all the other recipies I have browsed call for 7 or 8. What are your thoughts on flan recipies and the number of eggs being used?

    Reply
  • tina aguirre October 23, 2011, 8:14 am

    I love leche flan… But sometyms i wonder if i can combine it with my other favorite, gelatine. Is it bad for the stomach to combine in one serving leche flan at the bottom or top or inside a gelatine instead of raisins or pineapple?

    Reply
  • Bendee December 29, 2011, 3:33 pm

    Nice recipe. Most sites out there say that you need to have all egg yolks and no egg whites. Your one on the other hand asks for 6 yolks(w/o egg white) and 4 whole egg(with egg whites).
    Does having in the recipe give it an advantage.

    Reply
  • Gluten Free October 19, 2012, 9:47 am

    I knew exactly were to get these elusive tin pans, I told myself. But I wasn’t and so I opted to use my beautiful ramekins instead, the ones that aren’t fluted.

    Reply
  • lean aguila October 15, 2013, 8:52 am

    Hi,just to ask if i could make ur version of leche flan with just fresh milk or cooking milk?

    Reply

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