The Filipino-Style Flan That Takes Me Back to My Childhood

Plus, a few caramelly, creative riffs.

October 22, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

There are a million ways to cook with eggs and we've partnered with Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs—whose family-run, free-range farms produce delicious, all-organic eggs—to share a few of our favorites. Here, Food Stylist and Recipe Developer Amelia Rampe shares a few creative riffs on the Filipino-style flan she grew up loving (think: spicy horchata, ginger-turmeric, and more!).

Before I moved to Brooklyn, I lived in Seattle for 12 years. I had a wonderful community of women there, and every month or so I would invite them over for wine and cheese parties.

As a single mom in my 20s, affording a babysitter for a night out was a luxury I could not enjoy. So I would host the evening as a way to lure my friends over in a more affordable way. Everyone pitched in a bottle of wine and one cheese for the night, which added up to, well, a lot of wine and cheese—and plenty of fun conversation.

When we got older, our parties turned into potlucks, complete with a spread of different dishes (think: lasagna, meatloaf, soups, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, mac and cheese, etc.) and of course, desserts. My go-to contribution: flan.

Cinnamon and horchata concentrate give this classic Filipino-style flan—made with Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs—a punch of cozy, spicy flavor. Photo by Rocky Luten

Flan was a constant at just about every family get-together I went to as a kid, and it’s been my favorite for as long as I can remember. Being first-generation Filipinx, the kind of flan I grew up eating (called leche flan) was made with evaporated milk, sweetened and condensed milk, vanilla, and fresh egg yolks—not just a few, but many. The result is a creamy, custardy body soaked in a rich caramel sauce.

Despite flan’s impressive taste and good looks, it’s absurdly easy to pull off: You can make it a day ahead and chill it in the fridge until it’s ready for a dramatic unmolding. When done right, it evokes oohs and ahhs from anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse or, even luckier, snag a slice.

Tips for Making a Flawless Flan

The key to a good flan starts with the caramel. It should look like amber stained glass, smooth and clean—this is critical to the process. Here’s how I make it:

  • Add the sugar in a mound to the center of a small saucepan and surround the mound with water.
  • Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Do not turn it to medium-low heat until every grain of sugar has melted.
  • Ok, now this step is important: Do not stir. Stirring can form sugar crystals, which will make your caramel come out grainy or chunky. Instead, hold the handle of the saucepan and gently swirl it in a circular motion.
  • Once the caramel has reached a deep amber color (you can test for doneness on a white plate), immediately pour it into your prepared baking dish(es), swirling to cover every surface with caramel. It will harden as it cools, so move quickly.

The second trick to perfecting flan is the custard. My recipe calls for 10 yolks, which creates an ultra-luscious custard; it may sound obvious, but for a more flavorful custard, use the best-quality eggs you can find. In the Philippines, we steam the flan in a llanera (a Filipino oval-shaped flan mold that you can purchase online here), but in this preparation we use an oven bain-marie (aka water bath). If you don’t have a llanera, you can also make the flan in ramekins or a cake pan.

The custard will come together in minutes, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind to make sure it comes out totally smooth:

  • Whisk gently. Keep the tip of the whisk grounded to the bottom of the bowl and work in circular motions. The harder you whisk, the more bubbles will end up in your custard, which you don’t want.
  • Always strain your custard. If I’m using ramekins or llaneras, I like to strain into a large measuring cup. The measuring cup’s spout allows for a gentler pour and it helps me keep track of how much I’m using if I’m dividing into different dishes.
  • Don’t throw out the extra egg whites! Making the custard will leave you with quite a few leftover egg whites. Instead of tossing them in the bin, make meringues, a breakfast scramble, angel food cake, or even marshmallows.

The other wonder of flan is that it’s an extremely versatile dessert. You can start with a base recipe, and then play around with different flavor profiles on the custard and caramel. The options are endless, but here are a few of my all-time favorites:

Custardy Classic + Vanilla

This classic version has a base of sweetened and condensed milk, evaporated milk, and yolks. But I added fresh vanilla bean and a little bit of salt to balance it all out. It’s delicious as is, or a great starting point for layering in more flavor, like lemon zest or cardamom—whatever your heart desires.

Spicy Horchata

In this version, I swapped in horchata concentrate (you can find it online here) for the sweetened and condensed milk, and added an extra can of evaporated milk to make up the volume. I also spiced up the caramel by adding in cinnamon and cayenne at the end of the cooking process. If you want even more of a kick, add in an extra pinch of cayenne but be careful when adding more cinnamon—it can turn bitter. I especially love to make this flan during the fall, when the temperatures start to dip and I'm in the mood for something warm and cozy.

Coconut + Lime

For this riff, I made a few swaps: coconut milk for the evaporated milk, and coconut extract for vanilla. I also added coconut cream and lime zest to the custard base, and will sometimes top the whole thing off with lightly toasted coconut flakes for a little extra flare.

Ginger + Turmeric

I like to call this one Golden Milk Flan for its sunny hue and lightly gingered caramel—it reminds me of a turmeric latte, but not quite. Here, I added turmeric, ground ginger, and cinnamon to the custard, plus a little extra ground ginger to the caramel for a hint of spice.

Which flan flavor combo are you most excited to make? Tell us in the comments below!

In partnership with Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs, we're highlighting our favorite eggy recipes, from these creamy, custardy flans to an epic, eight-layer sandwich that'll take your breakfast game up a notch. But no matter which recipe you're whipping up, the final dish always tastes better when you're cooking with humanely raised, fresh eggs from Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs—which have the brightest yolks and richest flavor of all the eggs you'll find at the grocery store.

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Food Stylist // Recipe Developer