Mexican Flan: Step by Step

Mexican Flan: Step by Step

Let’s talk flan, people.

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What is it?

Flan is a delicate baked caramel custard dessert, popular in Mexico and South and Central America. When flan is done correctly, it’s absolutely the most heavenly dessert you’ve ever tasted. When it’s done wrong, it’s miserable (something akin to sweet overcooked scrambled eggs). My husband John was very vocal flan-hater (he used to call it “egg pie”), until he tried this flan. Seriously. After he took a bite of the slice pictured below he said, “WOW … I think this could be my favorite dessert!” So even if you think you don’t like flan, you might want to give it another chance!

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So how do you make REALLY GOOD flan?

To make really good flan, there are a few things you need to know. First, how to cook the caramel sauce. Second, the proper flan pan to use. And third, how to cook the flan in a water bath. We’ll go over each point below.

(1) HOW TO COOK THE CARAMEL SAUCE

The caramel sauce that goes with the flan custard is made of cooked sugar. Sounds easy enough, right? It is. But, sugar burns really easily and it gets scalding hot as it cooks. So here’s what you need to know about cooking the sugar: Keep it on medium-low or low heat at all times, stir frequently and watch it constantly. As is explained in the instructions below, you’ll start by pouring 1/2 cup white granulated sugar into a small saucepan over medium-low heat.

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As the sugar cooks, it will start to melt, turn a light brown, and form clumps. You need to stir it frequently (almost constantly) at this point to keep it from burning.

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Eventually (after about 3 or 4 minutes or so) the sugar will completely liquify and turn a deep caramel color. At that point, the sugar is done cooking and is ready to be poured into the flan pan. Be very careful because the caramel will be VERY hot at this point. Also, the caramel will harden as it cools, so you need to work quickly when transferring it to the flan pan.

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(2) THE PROPER FLAN PAN

While it is possible to make flan in various types of pans (for example, a 9-inch round cake pan or in individual ramekins), I’ve found the easiest way to make flan is to use a special flan pan called a “flanera.” You can buy a flanera on Amazon for about $12. This flanera is my favorite.

Flanera

If you like flan, the pan is a worthwhile investment. The locking lid will hold in the steam necessary to cook the flan, and it also makes transport of the finished flan super easy. The depth of this particular pan is also just right for my recipe (below).

(3) THE WATER BATH

In order to cook a flan evenly throughout, you need to bake it with the custard in a flanera and the flanera in a “water bath.” Does that sound scary? It’s not. To make a water bath, you simply place the sealed flanera in a large metal or pyrex baking dish, and then add water to the baking dish. (The water should reach about halfway up the flanera, and the flanera should not float.) To bake the flan, you place the baking dish (with water and flanera inside) into the oven and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Just remember: the water and both pans will get very hot, so be careful and use potholders when removing them from the oven.

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Once you have the proper flan pan and understand how to cook the caramel sauce and make the water bath, making flan is quick and easy. I hope you’ll try it! It’s definitely my go-to dessert of late. I love to serve it with a big spoonful of sweetened vanilla-bean whiskey-spiked whipped cream (just add a splash or two of whisky, sugar, and vanilla bean paste to heavy whipping cream and whip as usual) … the whisky flavor goes just perfectly with the silky custard and sweet caramel!

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Easy Mexican Flan

Ingredients:

1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk

1 ¼ cup milk

4 large eggs

For the caramel: ½ cup sugar

Instructions:

Pour the condensed milk into the jar of a blender. Fill the same can with milk, and pour the milk into the jar of the blender. Add the eggs. Blend for 30 seconds and set aside.

To make the caramel sauce, pour the sugar into a small saucepan on the stove. Turn heat to medium-low.

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As the sugar begins to melt, use a rubber spatula to stir it around. (Be careful: The sugar can burn easily, so keep your eye on the sugar at all times!)

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Continue cooking and stirring the sugar until it is completely caramelized—i.e., light brown and melted.

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Pour the caramel into the flan pan. Use a potholder to hold the flan pan because the hot sugar will make the pan VERY HOT.

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Using your spatula (while still holding the flan pan with a potholder and your other hand), spread a thin layer of caramel around the bottom and sides of the pan. This will keep the cooked flan from sticking to the sides. You need to work quickly because the sugar hardens as it cools! After the sides are lightly coated, let the remaining caramel cover the bottom of the pan.

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Blend the milk and egg mixture in the blender for about 10 more seconds, just to combine. Pour the mixture into the pan with the melted sugar.

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Keep pouring. If you use the pan that I’m using here, it should end up about 3/4 full.

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Put the lid on the flan pan and use the buckles to seal it shut. (Be very careful! The sides and bottom of the flan pan will still be VERY hot.) Place the sealed flan pan in a large pyrex baking dish. Pour water into the pyrex dish until it reaches about halfway up the flan pan. Carefully place the pyrex baking dish in the preheated oven. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Carefully remove pyrex dish from oven; the water and both pans will be very hot!

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Open the lid to the flan pan and check to see if it is done. The flan is done if it is “set” in the center. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. If the toothpick is not clean or if the flan is very “jiggly” in the center, put it back in the oven in the water bath for about 15 more minutes. I overcooked mine a bit (see picture below), but it still had fabulous flavor and texture when I turned it out, so don’t worry too much about overcooking it a little. On the other hand, if you undercook the flan, it will fall apart when you try to move it to a serving plate. All that to say, if you’re not sure if the flan is set, it’s best to cook it a little more. When the flan is done, take the flan pan out of the water bath and let it cool completely. Then refrigerate the flan (still in the sealed flan pan) for at least 2 hours or overnight.

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To serve the flan, you will need a large plate with a lip to hold in the caramel. Right before you are ready to serve the flan, take off the lid to the flan pan. Run a butter knife around the outside edge of the flan to make sure the edges are loose. Then twist the pan back and forth quickly — the flan is loose if it moves freely within the pan. Now place the plate on top of the flan pan where the lid was. Holding the flan pan and plate tightly together, flip the plate and pan over so that the plate is on the bottom and flan pan is on the top. Carefully lift off the flan pan. Your flan should be sitting in the caramel on the plate, ready to enjoy!

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Serve cold, with a spoonful of caramel on each plate. Top with whipped cream if desired.

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44 Responses to Mexican Flan: Step by Step

  1. Amy Rung December 7, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Marie, We finished your flan up tonight for dessert. It was amazing! Well enjoyed & very appreciated.
    Your happy neighbors

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba December 11, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

      So glad Amy! Thanks for the note :) And thanks for letting my son “help” you hang lights last weekend!! It was the highlight of his week, I think. See you soon! xoxo, Marie

  2. Mary Luttrell May 19, 2015 at 3:21 pm #

    Hi lovely Marie! this is Mary from @cooking_to_share on Instagram. I absolutely love flan, it’s one of my very favorite desserts! So of course, I came to check out your recipe when I noticed it on your profile link. As I was reading it and thinking about it being a traditional Mexican recipe dessert, I started wondering what they originally used instead of a can of sweetened condensed milk. Then I remembered one time when I was in Acapulco a friend there introduced me to an absolutely fabulous concoction called cajeta. Do you think the original recipe used that instead of sweetened condensed milk?

    • Salem Lopez November 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm #

      No, I believe they just made their own sweetened condensed milk by slowly cooking sugar and milk over low heat. Rick Bayless uses this technique in his flan recipe. He swears it has a better flavor, but most of us don’t have the time or patience to make it ourselves.

  3. Ellen Nieslanik August 11, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    How long can the flan be stored cold before serving? I’m doing a large dinner for 40 people and want to do duck egg flan, so I’ll need to prepare ahead. Also… If I don’t have a flan dish will tinfoild or a tight lid work?

  4. shefskitchen October 29, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    hi Marie! saw your pic on IG and want to make this flan the right way! was about to buy the flanera you recommended but your link is not working. can you tell us which flan era to buy?

  5. Lionfish Lair October 29, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

    I have made this recipe at least a dozen times. I bought the flan pan from Amazon and it’s perfect EVERY time. I make it exactly like the recipe. This is now one of my favorite desserts.

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba October 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      Hi! So great to hear! Thanks for taking time to leave a note :) It’s one of my absolute favorite desserts, and I’m thrilled to know that you enjoy it, too. My best, Marie

  6. Nathalie December 18, 2015 at 9:54 am #

    I’m trying to get the flan to be that flat on top, but no luck! Any tips?

    Also, how long do you wait for it to cool down before placing it in the fridge?

    Love your blog, it’s very helpful and beautifully written!

  7. Monica January 31, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Made this today. Super easy! Waiting for it to cool down before I put it in the fridge. Should be ready by dessert time! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Barbara T February 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    About how many servings would this make? Thanks

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba February 26, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

      Hi Barbara! This flan would serve 6-8. Hope that helps! xoxo, Marie

  9. Suzan February 28, 2016 at 11:51 pm #

    I followed your steps and my flan came out really good ,thanks for sharing .

  10. ann April 25, 2016 at 6:43 am #

    How do you get the hardened caramel in the bottom of the pan to come out? The liquid caramel comes out but there is still a lot in the pan.

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba April 29, 2016 at 11:35 am #

      Hi! I’ve never tried to get out the caramel in the bottom of the pan, but I imagine you could heat it up a little (place the pan directly on the burner over low heat). That would probably melt it so you could pour it out. Just be careful because the pan and the caramel will get very very hot! Hope this helps! My best, Marie

      • Chris May 23, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

        Wait, so can you make new flan with the old caramel in the pan? Or do you buy a brand new pan each time you make it?

        • Marie Saba
          Marie Saba May 23, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

          Sorry for the confusion, my fault! After making a flan, you wash out the pan with soap and water as you normally would, and then use again later for a new flan. I was just saying that if there is a little caramel stuck to the top (bottom) of the pan, I don’t necessarily try to scrape it out to go on the flan I just made. So you definitely do not need to get a new pan each time you make a flan :)

  11. Chris May 24, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    lol, thanks for the clarification :)

  12. AndyFerny June 17, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

    Hi! I’m eagerly wanting to try this flan recipe. I do not own a flanera but instead I have a 9-inch round baking pan. Should I cover the pan with aluminum foil or a metal pot lid during the water bath? Thanks for your help and I can not wait to make this recipe for my father!

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba June 17, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

      Hi! Thanks so much for leaving a note! I have not tried using aluminum foil or a metal lid on top of a baking pan, but I think it should work! The top of my flanera latches on really tightly, so to achieve something similar maybe use foil and then a metal lid on top of that. The goal is to keep the heat and steam inside the pan, while keeping the water from the water bath out … and it sounds like you’re on the right track! Hope it turns out well and hope your father enjoys it :) Very best, Marie

  13. Jacklyn0416@yahoo.com July 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Where can I buy this pot

  14. Linda Henmi July 11, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

    Thanks for the recipe. I’m planning on using small 3/4 cup souffle cups. In a 350 degree oven, does the cooking time change from 1 hr 15minutes?

    Also, do I just them uncovered?

    thank you. I plan to make them in a day or two.

  15. trish hansen October 16, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

    im looking for a carmel sauce u put over custard after u bake it a lady made this for a buffet it was to die for i never got her name it was sort of carmel and buttery at same time hope u can help

    • kali December 14, 2016 at 11:45 pm #

      Probably dulce de leche or cajeta :)

  16. Glory October 22, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    Hi would I get the same results adding cream cheese to my flan in this pan?

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba October 22, 2016 at 6:51 pm #

      Hi! I have never made flan with cream cheese, so I’m not sure how it would turn out. Sorry I cannot be more helpful! My guess is it would make the consistency a bit more like cheesecake, but that would probably be delicious :) My best, Marie

  17. enriqueta November 15, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    Hi I love flan since I was a little girl in Mexico City. I was wondering now as an adult can I use something else besides sugar, I am diabetic. Please help.

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba November 15, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

      Hi! I wish I could help but I’ve never made flan without condensed milk (which contains the sugar). If you could find a sugar-free condensed milk, you could add a sugar substitute like stevia. Hope that helps! Very best, Marie

  18. enriqueta December 2, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    Hi, I just did my first fla, it came put delicious. one question, why did my flan came out with a dent in the middle you know what I am talking about??? Can you help me before Christmas? ???

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba December 22, 2016 at 2:19 pm #

      Hi! So glad it came out well! Hmmm…I’m not sure why there would be a dent in the middle … possibly it was just a little undercooked? You could cook it a touch longer and see if that helps. Very best, Marie

  19. Rita December 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    How long in advance can I make flan?

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba December 22, 2016 at 2:18 pm #

      Hi Rita! I would say 24 hours in advance, or 48 hours if needed. Keep it in the pan, sealed, in the refrigerator. Hope that helps! Very best, Marie

  20. Bebi December 26, 2016 at 11:39 pm #

    I followed your recipe and made this earlier this morning. It came out delicious, but since it was my first time making flan, I did have some difficulty. I made the Carmel from white sugar on the stove like you suggested but it hardens within seconds and it was really hard to spread across the pan without reheating the Carmel many times. So, I was wondering if there is a better substitute for the melted sugar or a different way to go about this?

    • Larry May 5, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

      I heated my I heated my flan pan a little over lowheatbefore I poured in the cararmeled sugar. Worked fine for me.

  21. Nicole February 13, 2017 at 1:19 am #

    I just made this using individual ramekins due to limited time to locate a flanera, and it turned out FABULOUS! It was my first attempt at making flan, and I could not be happier! Thank you so much for the tips of things to avoid and ensure doing in order to avoid the many flan disasters I have heard about and tasted myself!

  22. Marisol April 29, 2017 at 7:11 am #

    I see the the recipe calls for 1-1/4 cup of milk but next to that is says 14 oz. 1-1/4 cup is 10 oz.

    Which is correct? I was hoping to try your recipe tonight, but I want to get it right!

    • Marie Saba
      Marie Saba April 29, 2017 at 9:06 am #

      Hi! Thanks so much for your question! The correct amount is 1 1/4 cup milk. I’ll fix the recipe now, thanks again!

  23. MommaBear13 May 6, 2017 at 9:23 pm #

    Turned out absolutely perfect and so delicious! This is a go-to recipe for sure. No doubt this is among the best of the best of flan you’ll ever eat! Thank you for sharing!!!!

  24. Jeff in Albuquerque June 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm #

    Hi Marie – I picked up the flanera and I’ve made this twice – both times adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract – and it’s delicious. I’ve struggled with the mechanics of the caramel-making and making flan – with and without the flanera. I’ve got to where I know exactly when the caramel is finished and not burnt, so there’s no substantive problem, but getting caramel into the flanera can get a little wild. It sets so quickly and the flanera gets very hot very quickly when you introduce the caramel – I mean it’s burning hot and I’m still trying to spread the caramel around and the three locks on the flanera a very in-the-way! Any suggestions??

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