recipe: a lighter leche flan.

leche flan (léh-che flahn) is a baked or steamed egg and milk custard with a caramel glaze quite popular in the philippines. a typical recipe calls for a dozen egg yolks, condensed milk, and whole milk--a dairy delight. i like leche flan, but can only take it in small doses, as it's quite rich, sweet, thick, and creamy.

i don't exactly recall why i started making lighter flans. i don't think it was for health reasons, but while it's not healthy in any way, this version is probably less bad for you. i do like this better than most, as it's not as cloyingly sweet or that...that...i don't know how to describe it, it's that milky sticky cheese-like texture that bugs me sometimes. but it is still quite sweet, and rich. you will not mistake this for a "diet" recipe.

the typical philippine-style flan is oval shaped and relatively thin; the best mold i've seen is those large flat-bottomed ovoid sardine or mackerel tins (not the ones with the key; did you see "chungking express"? like the ones tony leung had.) if you don't have any, you can use pretty much anything round or oval or even loaf tins.

this recipe is enough for two flans:

6-8 egg yolks, depending on the size of the yolk and how firm you want your flan
1 can condensed milk
dayap or lime zest or vanilla extract or almond extract (i almost always use the citrus zest)

whisk the egg yolks together. add the can of condensed milk, one scant canful of water (swirl it around to get all the milk clinging to the sides), zest or extract. whisk together well. set aside.

the caramel topping is simple. i don't know if i should tell you how simple it can be, so first let me tell you the conventional method: place one cup of white sugar with 1/4th cup of water in a saucepan, cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the sugar begins to caramelize. once it reaches a light golden colour, turn off the heat, but continue stirring. the caramel should darken more to a light maple syrup colour. i'm not sure how long this takes as i usually make the caramel in the microwave, which i think is highly frowned upon, but let me tell you, it works. however, you really have to watch it--it can all go kablooey in seconds. it's best to make it in small batches, so for this recipe, put one-half cup of sugar and two to three tablespoons of water in a heavy glass microwaveable measuring cup (a 2-cup one works best), set microwave at highest setting, zap until it turns light golden colour (about a minute and a half in a 1300watt oven), turn off (it will continue to darken). you will need to stand in front of your microwave and watch the colour intently--it only takes a couple of seconds more for it to get too dark, bitter and acrid. if this sounds dangerous and/or overwhelming, stick to the stove top method. pour the caramel (quickly!) into the bottom of your mold, coat the bottom and a little up the sides (see pretty photo in previous post). this is enough caramel for one mold, so repeat for the second one.

fill each of the coated molds with half the custard mixture. it should not go above 1 1/2 inches from the bottom, unless you want to live dangerously, as any deeper and it may not set properly and collapse on you when you plate it.

me, i like to live dangerously (snort).

place the molds in a larger roasting pan, and then into the oven preheated to 375˚f. pour hot water into the roasting pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the mold. cook in this bain-marie for 1 hour (up to two hours, if your flan is quite thick) or until the top and sides are firm (the middle might be a little shaky underneath the top, depending on the thickness of your flan). chill for several hours or ideally, overnight.

to unmold your flan, run a sharp knife along the edge, place a plate on top, and holding both plate and mold firmly, invert. the caramel will have thinned considerably, so take care not to spill all the amber loveliness.

update: four out of four flan tasters agree: "it's normal!"


Hi Santos,

Gosh! I haven't made flan in ages and I really love to eat it too! I guess it's because it's so rich and bad for you. =) I actually have a great recipe for coconut flan from the same Cubano's grandmother. Maybe I'll make it sometime. Great job with this, you make it seem so easy to make.

hey reid

i'd like to see you make that cubano recipe, sounds great. flans really are easy, it's the caramel i always take a chance on :-)

too funny when mom made this and proudly told the grandkids "I made you something nutritious!" ... anyway I also like the next day's egg white omelets (her "perfect flan" --caramelized sugar (the stovetop way) + mixture of whole milk (heated, cooled, scum taken off), egg yolks, vanilla & sugar, strained (her secret), cooked in ramekins in a stovetop steamer; smooth & no bubbles (God forbid)! have you had eggnog flan? super yummy also!

hi maia

i loooooove eggnog flan, i make it during the holidays. "nutritious" flan, ha!

Thank you for this recipe. Some American friends of mine are having an Easter party soon, and I wanted to bring something Filipino as a gift to them for hosting the event.

I'd love it!