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What is Flan?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Flan is a baked custard quite similar to crème caramel. It is typically made with eggs, cream or milk, gelatin and vanilla. Often, the custard is synonymous with crème caramel because it includes a layer of burnt or caramelized sugar on the bottom. Little ramekins of flan are then inverted, so the crunchy sugar is on the top.

This custard is quite popular in Latin American countries, but its origin is French. Often, flan served in Latin countries or restaurants does not have the caramel sugar layer, but instead is simply plain, more resembling Italian cream.

Sometimes, Latin American restaurants make the distinction between regular flan and dolce de leche, which served with a milk caramel sauce. Unlike crème caramel, the milk caramel sauce is added after the custard is baked and inverted. It is creamy rather than crunchy.

Flan enjoys great popularity in the US, in Latin American countries, and in the Philippines. It is also very popular in Japan, where some variants may be made with soy milk, since many native Japanese do not regularly consume cow milk.

There are also some instant flan mixes available. Thickening from these tend to come from the addition of either agar or gelatin. Authentic flan would probably not use either thickener, but would depend upon the addition of eggs to create the proper thickness. Most restaurant recipes, however, suggest gelatin.

While the custard is most often presented in individual portions, some make a large flan to serve at parties. This can be a particularly visually appealing dish, especially if either dolce de leche is added to the top, or if it has been baked over a layer of caramelized sugar. Some cooks even use a small blowtorch to further harden the sugar after baking. This provides a nice crunch that contrasts well with the creamy custard.

When flan is made in large portions, it is usually served in slices, and may be topped with whipped cream. The custard is usually served chilled, and care must be taken to refrigerate it, because it contains milk and eggs.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon355412 — On Nov 16, 2013

I make flan on a regular basis and I have never used or seen in recipes that gelatin or agar should be added. Here, we eat it with dulce de leche and we sometimes add to the mixture coconut, cream or dulce de leche. A traditional recipe takes 500 ml milk, 200 grs sugar, 10 egg yolks and 3 egg whites. I think it makes a great dessert.

By Crispety — On Aug 01, 2010

Knittingpro- I have never had choco-flan, but it sounds delicious. I just wanted to add that flan dessert is made with sweetened condensed milk, eggs and vanilla extract.

Flan leche as it is referred to is a staple in Latin American cuisine. Flan desserts can also be drizzled with a coconut topping. This adds more texture and flavor to the traditional flan desert.

By knittingpro — On Apr 13, 2008

Flan is much better than regular custard, although the two are often compared. I've never heard of flan being called comfort food before, but I guess it could be for some people. Another alternative is choco-flan, popular in Mexico, which has a layer of flan and a layer of chocolate flan which is a little more cake-like than regular flan. It is really good!

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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