Traditional Caramel Custard

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

It would not be an exaggeration to say that flan is the most popular dessert in Mexico and one that foreigners always think of as the ending to a Mexican meal. They are right. Delicious as it is, it is bland and soothing after a picante repast, and one never seems to tire of it-provided, of course, that it is well made. Eschew recipes that give short cuts like using canned milk or a suspicion of eggs and enjoy the rich satiny quality of this classical caramel custard. I prefer to have a very dark, burnt caramel, which provides a great foil for the not-too- sweet custard. If you have time, make this flan the day before so that it has time to set well and is easier to cut. While I use the Mexican flan mold for mine, you can use any sort of mold and put it in an improvised water bath. Be sure that the water is very hot when you start to cook the flan and that it comes at least one third of the way up the sides of the mold.

NotesCooking time will depend on the depth of the custard in the mold; if it is less than about 3 inches (7.5 cm), it will probably take less cooking time.


Cooking Methodbaking



Total Timeunder 4 hours

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationgluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free, vegetarian

Taste and Texturecreamy, rich, sweet

Type of Dishdessert


  • ¾ cup (190 ml) sugar
  • 1 quart (11) milk
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • ½ cup (125 ml) sugar
  • 1 2-inch (5 cm) cinnamon stick or vanilla bean
  • A small piece orange or lime rind (optional)
  • 4 eggs
  • 6 egg yolks


  1. Heat the sugar for the caramel in a small, heavy frying pan over low heat until it begins to dissolve. Shake the pan slightly (do not stir) until all the sugar has melted. Increase the flame and let the sugar bubble and color. Pour the caramel into the mold and quickly turn it around in all directions, tipping it up in a circular motion until the surface-bottom and about 2 inches (5 cm) up the sides-has been lightly coated with the caramel. If the caramel thickens and becomes sluggish, gently heat the mold in a pan of hot water or over low heat, depending on the material, and continue the coating action. Set aside to cool.

  2. Put the milk, salt, sugar, and cinnamon or vanilla into a saucepan and bring slowly to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Continue boiling slowly, taking care that it does not boil over, until the milk has reduced by about 2/3 cup (165 ml). Set aside to cool.

  3. Place an oven rack on the lowest rung of the oven and heat to 325° (165°C).

  4. Beat the eggs and yolks together and stir into the tepid milk. Pour the mixture through a strainer into the flan mold and place it covered in a hot water bath in the oven. Test after 2 hours with a skewer or cake tester; if it comes out quite clean, the flan is cooked. (see Notes) Remove from the oven, but allow to sit in the water bath for about 15 minutes longer. Remove and set aside to cool completely before refrigerating.

  5. To unmold, carefully slip a blunt-ended, thin metal spatula around the rim of the flan and gently tip the mold from side to side to see if the flan is loose. If the caramel has hardened at the bottom of the mold, place it in a pan of hot water for a short time and test again. Place the serving dish-it must have a rim to hold the syrup-on top of the mold, invert quickly, and pray that the flan comes out whole.

  6. Always serve a wedge of the flan with plenty of the extra syrup.


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" and pray that the flan comes out whole." My in-laws frequently had large dinner parties in their Virgin Islands home. I knew my mother-in-law to be a brave cook, especially when she made flan for 20 in the angel food cake pan.


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