What exactly is flan?
Flan, /FL-ah-N/ is a sweet egg custard-type dessert. It’s made with milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. The ingredients are placed in a caramel lined pan, cooked in a water bath, then chilled to create a caramel laden treat which is flipped onto a plate for serving.
Where does “flan” come from?
The term flan is thought to evolve from the Latin word fladonem which became the old Castillian and old German term flado and the old English term flawn, meaning “flat” or “broad.”
No, I meant where did it originate?
It is believed to have come from the ancient Romans who raised domestic fowl and often experimented cooking with eggs. The first recording of a flan recipe was found in a highly-regarded Roman recipe collection, called Apicius, written in the late 4th or early 5th century A.D. and uses honey instead of sugar. Flan was brought to the new world by the Conquistadors and is now a standard dessert in most Latin American cultures.
What other names are there for flan?
- Flan de leche acarmelado - made with milk it is often referred this way in Spain (caramelized flan of milk).
- Leche flan - in Latin American countries, as well as in countries with a strong Spanish influence, such as the Philippines (milk flan).
- Flan casero - in areas of Argentina and Uruguay (homemade flan).
- Flan de coco - in Caribbean countries that use coconut as a base (flan of coconut).
- Flan de queso - in Cuba when its made with cream cheese (flan of cheese).
- Leche asada - in Chile where they often add nutmeg and cinnamon (roasted milk).
- Quesillo - in Venezuela where it’s made with condensed milk and referred to as "small cheese" because of the texture.
- Pudim caseiro - in Portugal where it’s made with a dash of port (home made pudding).
- Pudim de leite condensado - in Brazil (condensed milk pudding) or just pudim, and when made with coconut it’s called quindin.
- Purin - in Japan.
- Crème caramel or crème brulee - the French equivalent.
- Crema caramella - the Italian version.
- Custard - to most English speaking cultures.
What is the difference between flan and crème brulee?
The French version of flan is called crème caramel. Crème brulee is creme caramel but made made with cream instead of milk so it is a bit thicker and also tends to have a hard caramel topping instead of a soft caramel sauce.
Why did it become so popular?
A simple flan is made with common ingredients—eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla or cinnamon for flavoring. These staple foods were typically found in most households regardless of income. As something a person could whip up with what they had, it quickly gained its place as a standard in many cultures. Today it still is a nice economical dessert for any family.
What type is the best?
It all depends on your palate and your cook. Good flan can be tough to make really well. The caramel can burn easily and make the whole dessert taste like charcoal. For some it can be too eggy, like eating scrambled eggs, for others it can be too grainy if the ingredients are not mixed well enough. Some enjoy thicker, richer versions while others prefer the lighter thinner kind. So you’ll just have to experiment to find out!
Is there such a thing as vegan flan?
There are vegan recipes using tofu instead of eggs, and soy, rice, or almond milk instead of cow’s milk. Whether it really qualifies as flan is up to you.
Is there a sugar-free recipe?
There are sugar-free recipes that use sucralose and sugar-free caramel syrup.
Is it possible to make a fat-free flan?
There are fat-free recipes that use egg beaters instead of eggs and skim milk. But is it really flan? Well, you’ll have to decide.
What is the best pan to use to make flan?
For individual servings ramekins are generally used. For family size you would use a fluted pan like a tart pan, but a cake or bunt pan also works.
What is the easiest type to make?
A simple basic flan is not difficult to make, but it is a lesson in attention and patience. The main tricks are-- mix the ingredients well, avoid burning the caramel, keep an eye on flan in the oven so it doesn’t burn, and let it chill thoroughly before serving.
Do you have any recipes?
Yes, see our recipe pages for some easy flan recipes. Then sign-up for our mailing list and we’ll send you a new recipe about once a month.
Now that you know What is Flan, want to know how it's made around the world? Take a look at our recipes section and learn more.