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Creme caramel or flan

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Crème caramel, flan, or caramel custard is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top, as opposed to crème brûlée, which is custard with a hard caramel top. The dish is eaten throughout the world.

Crème caramel used to be ubiquitous in European restaurants; food historian Alan Davidson remarks:

In the later part of the 20th century crème caramel occupied an excessively large amount of territory in European restaurant dessert menus. This was probably due to the convenience, for restaurateurs, of being able to prepare a lot in advance and keep them until needed.

Etymology of names

Both crème caramel (French 'caramel custard') and flan (ultimately from Old German flado meaning 'cake') are French names, but flan has come to have different meanings in different regions.

In Spanish-speaking countries and in North America, flan refers to crème caramel. This was originally a Spanish usage, but the dish is now best-known in the United States in a Latin American context. Elsewhere, including in Britain, flan usually means a custard tart (French flan pâtissier), sometimes with a fruit topping.

'The Modern English word flan and the earlier flawn come from French flan, from Old French flaon, in turn from Medieval Latin fladonem, derived from the Old High German flado, a sort of flat cake, probably from an Indo-European root for 'flat' or 'broad'. The North American sense of flan as crème caramel was borrowed from Latin American Spanish.

Preparation, cooking and presentation


Crème caramel is a variant of plain custard (crème) where sugar syrup cooked to caramel stage is poured into the mold before adding the custard base. It is usually cooked in a bain-marie on a stove top or in the oven in a water bath. It is turned and served with the caramel sauce on top, hence the alternate French name crème caramel renversée.


An imitation of crème caramel may be prepared from "instant flan powder", which is thickened with agar or carrageenan rather than eggs. In some Latin American countries, the true custard version is known as "milk flan" (flan de leche) or even "milk cheese", and the substitute version is known as just "flan".

Regional varieties

Latin America

Most notably in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Uruguay, but also in some neighbouring countries, crème caramel is usually eaten with dulce de leche.

In Venezuela, and Brazil it is often made with condensed milk, milk, eggs and sugar caramelized on top. The Venezuelan version is known as "quesillo" and in Brazil, it is known as "pudim de leite condensado".

In Chile it is often eaten with dulce de membrillo (a quince gelatin spread) or leche condensada.


Cuban flan known in Spanish-speaking countries as "Flan de Cuba" is made with the addition of the whites of two eggs and the flavoring of a cinnamon stick.

A similar Cuban dish is "Copa Lolita", a small caramel flan served with one or two scoops of vanilla ice-cream. Other variations include coconut or rum raisin topping.


In the Philippines, flan is known as leche flan (the local term for the originally Spanish flan de leche, literally "milk flan"), which is a heavier version of the Spanish flan made with condensed milk and more egg yolks. Leche flan is usually steamed over an open flame or stove top, although rarely it can also be seen baked. Leche flan is a staple in celebratory feasts.

A heavier version of leche flan, tocino del cielo, is similar, but has significantly more egg yolks and sugar.


Crème caramel was introduced by the French and has been common in Vietnam. It is known as bánh caramel or kem caramel in northern Vietnam or bánh flan or kem flan in southern Vietnam.


Packaged crème caramel is ubiquitous in Japanese convenience stores under the name purin (i.e. 'pudding'), or custard pudding. Often, an entire shelf in a Lawson or 7-Eleven is dedicated to over a dozen brands and varieties.

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