Sep 292009

The Big Move is behind me. With the High Holidays over and Sukkot  just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about meals and menus without much interruption. Plenty of time to think about all that because for the past several days I’ve been lying in bed, blowing my nose.

Oh, woe. If I’d only drunk my daily cup of kefir, I could have avoided this cold and gone to a post- Yom Kippur breakfast, met some interesting new people…and look, I had even made some flan to take.

Many food historians claim that this elegant dish goes back to the ancient Romans and an egg-and-honey custard. Although the ancient Romans had a sophisticated cuisine, I suspect that flan in some form, under other names, existed long before them.

We don’t know who first baked bread, brewed beer, or pickled olives; nor do we know if the ancient Phoenicians invented custard and brought it to Spain, where the Romans first sampled it. I lean towards the last theory – it evokes an even more ancient time, when some barefoot farm wife found herself with an excess of creamy milk, not enough to make cheese but a few dipperfulls. And say her hens had just laid an unusual number of  eggs. It wouldn’t have taken much imagination to mix the two in a clay pot, bake the mixture in the embers of a fire, and douse the custard with honey. That would have been a treat for a seafaring husband, something to make him miss home.

Well, that’s just romance and speculation. For a good read on the history of puddings, custards, and creams, with many historical recipes, go here.

But flan, flan takes me back to my childhood in Venezuela. I remember spooning up the silky custard with its veil of caramel syrup, allowing that tiny burnt taste to just approach my senses before it yielded to sweetness and the blander taste of cream and eggs. I still love flan. When thinking of a light dessert to please a crowd who’d been fasting 25 hours, that was what came to mind.

Out on the Net, almost every recipe calls for cans of condensed and evaporated milk. You can get those here, but they’re expensive and not kosher enough for everyone as they’re chalav nochri (milk produced by Gentiles). This recipe, needing only whipping cream and milk, is adapted from one I found on

Note: flan does shrink in cooking, so ramekins make a prettier presentation than a ring or a pie plate. I doubled the recipe and used a silicon bundt pan plus a pie pan to steady it.

Traditional Spanish Flan

printable version here

6 servings


1 and 3/4 cup whipping cream

1 cup milk

pinch of salt

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise


1 cup sugar


3 large eggs

2 large yolks

7 Tablespoons sugar


hot water for steaming the flan


1. Combine the cream, milk, and salt.

2. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean into the cream mixture. Add the bean. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer. Turn the flame off, cover the pan, and allow it to infuse for 1/2 hour.

3. Now preheat the oven to 350°F – 180° C.

4. Get your ramekins or mold ready: place them (or it) on a baking pan.

5. Put the cup of sugar into a medium pan. Allow it to  dissolve and caramelize over a medium flame. Keep a sharp eye on it – it takes only a few minutes for the sugar to brown. Once it goes black, it’s bitter and inedible. Break up any chunks with a spoon. As soon as the sugar smells only a little burnt and has a deep orange color, pour the syrup into the mold. Be very careful – burnt sugar causes painful burns on the skin. Best is to wear gloves. Now tilt the mold so the syrup coats as much of its inside as possible. Let it cool till the 1/2 hour of cream infusing with vanilla is up.

6. You’ll need to fill up the baking pan with water to half-way up the mold, so heat the water up in a kettle now.

7. Whisk the eggs, yolks, and 7 Tablespoons of sugar together in a medium bowl.

8. Whisk the infused cream into the yolks, gently. Try not to make foam, which will create air holes in the texture of the finished flan (can’t avoid them entirely, but small ones don’t matter).

9. Pour the custard into the mold, through a sieve. Sieving removes the pieces of vanilla bean and the skin which formed on the surface of the cream .

10. Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come half-way up the mold.

11. Bake till the center is gently set: 40-50 minutes.

When it’s done, remove the whole thing from the oven, baking pan and all. when the water in the baking pan has cooled, lift the flan mold out and set it to finish cooling on a rack for an hour or two. Then cover and store it in the fridge. Serve the flan cold.

To serve, run a knife around the inner edges. Turn the flan over onto a plate. Shake it gently to loosen it. Lift the mold carefully and watch, entranced, as the caramel syrup runs over the baked cream custard.

Coconut Flan: use 1 can coconut cream instead of the milk. Use only 1 and 1/2 cups whipping cream.

Mango Flan: Add 1 cup sieved, puréed mango pulp and 1 Tablespoon rum to the recipe.

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  17 Responses to “Traditional Spanish Flan and 2 variations”

  1. Oooh me gusta el flan! That is one of my favourite desserts and in Venezuela I had the best one. I even got the recipe and did it once and it included quite a lot of rum ;-) Coconut milk flan is good too.yummy!!That would have been a nice thing yesterday after the fast; I had fruit and salads at my cousin¨s house post fast.

  2. Oh my, wonderful memories…….Flan is still my most favorite dessert. Yours looks fabulous!
    I grew up eating flan. Mom made it mostly with freshly squeezed Orange juice, Coconut (she used the cream and the coconut flakes together) or Passion fruit (my favorite).
    In the olden days, Brazilians made flan much like your recipe; milk, cream, sugar and eggs.
    Did you know there is such a thing as a flan pan? It’s done on the top of the stove, it saves turning the oven on during the hot days and also saves on the gas bill. Before I purchased my Flan pan, I improvised it with a couple of pans and still worked as well as the Flan pan.

  3. Oooh, Katia, your Mom’s recipes sound fabulous. Would you like to share one or two here?

    No, I’ve never seen a flan pan. I’ll look it up on the Net…

  4. Hi, Yaelian,

    If you’d like to share your recipe, I’d love to see it. Lots of rum? Sounds good to me.

    Well, my family and I ate disgraceful amounts of the flan intended for other people, after the fast. Pretty good, too.

  5. Look what I missed! What a pity.

  6. Yes, those flans had your name on them, but maybe I misspelled it and that’s why they stayed home. As you say, another time…

  7. Mimi,

    My mom used the condensed milk version of it. She would use a can of whatever juice in the place of the milk.
    Her recipe:
    1 can condensed milk
    1 can milk (juice or coconut cream)
    1 Tbsp. cornstarch
    1 cup shredded coconut
    3-4 large eggs

    Since your recipe doesn’t call for the can milk, you could still substitute the orange juice in the place of the milk, and the coconut cream in the place of the regular cream, maybe?????

    I know I have a recipe for the passion fruit one somewhere, I believe it’s the old version of it, much like yours. I will come back later. I can’t wait to see the rum recipe, it sounds delicious!

  8. Katia,

    Lovely! Thanks for the recipe. I think I could use coconut cream instead of condensed milk, but would prefer to use OJ or other fruit juice in a separate recipe. I’m looking forward to the passiflora recipe, it sounds good. I ate an excellent passiflora-based flan in Tel Aviv not too long ago, really liked it.

  9. I love flan. I have a recipe that is similar to yours, but also has orange zest and a little tawny port for added measure. But, I have to say my all time favourite is my cousin’s Brazilian Flan and it is made with condensed milk. It is so silky smooth. My grandmother had a flan pan that I will look for when I go to the States. I think I will have to organize it and bring it back.

  10. Please do organize that flan pan and bring it back. I’d love to see it.

  11. Shalom, it’s me again :)
    I thought you would enjoy a picture of the pan while you wait until your friend brings the pan from the US. I’ve found a good picture of the pan for in the net.

    Look for the: FORMAS PARA PUDIM BANHO MARIA, scroll down to the middle of the page.

    If you are interested in making your own, it’s very easy to make your own, here’s what you will need:
    _ a bottom pan for the water bath
    _ a baking pan or pyrex with a secure lid. This pan must fit well half way through the water bath pan. The top one must be closed well. When I made my own I couldn’t find a lid for the top pan, so I covered securely with aluminum foil, making sure it’s well covered.

  12. Hi!
    I need some kefir grains! Do you know anyone who will share?

  13. Great, Katia, I did go to the link for a peek at the flan pan.

    So when steaming flan on the stove top, what kind of heat do you use? Low flame, medium?

  14. Better put the word out on one of the e-lists operating close to you. Jango, maybe.

  15. You want to make sure your bath water is boiling first, then place the flan pan and lower the heat to a moderate boil, like a very steady low boil. Not sure how to explain it. If the water boil too fast the flan will foam. If the water is just steaming, it will take forever for the flan to cook. Hope this helps, good luck if you try it on the stove.

    Now, I am wondering if the reason one of the comments above about Brazilian flan being silky, has more to do with the cooking method, stove top cooking verses the oven?

  16. Katia, thanks for the instructions. Truth is, I’m flanned out right now. Waiting to have lost some weight before I try variations on the traditional recipe. Or till I have a bunch of guests, hmmm…maybe for the Israeli blogger’s evening….

    I’m guessing that the silkiness of the Brazilian recipe comes from using condensed milk.

  17. Sorry, Tikva, forgot you’re up north. Some people in Tsfat have kefir, if you have connections with anyone there.

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