Does anybody remember the episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when she conjures a giant flan in the cafeteria to conclude a day of magical hilarity? Well I do. And it always struck me that flan didn’t really seem like a very mainstream choice for a high school celebration. Anyway, I enjoy flan, mostly for the burnt sugar syrup that streams all over it when you flip it upside down on the plate.

Flan is shockingly simple to make. Very few ingredients, very few steps, but it’s a good break from your usual cakes and cookies and the like. I prefer my flan to be light and eggy. Not dense and custardy. It should not resemble creme brulee in any way. So here’s how it’s done.

First you make the caramel and pour into the bottom of your ramekins.

Then you make the flan – a combination of milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Very simple. Pour into ramekins and bake in a water bath.

After they come out looking perfect like this, chill overnight.

And finally flip it over to reveal that beautiful burnt caramel bottom and enjoy the complete satisfaction of watching the syrup pour out on top.


from The Cook’s Encyclopedia of French Cooking

Serves 6-8


  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp water
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks


  1. Put 7/8 cup of the sugar and the water in a small heavy saucepan. Boil over high heat without stirring until it turns a dark caramel color.
  2. Immediately pour the caramel into a 4 cup souffle dish or 6 individual ramekins. Using oven mitts, swirl around the caramel to coat the bottom.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 F. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape seeds into a medium sauce pan. Add the milk and cream and bring just to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir frequently to avoid getting a skin on the top of the milk. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 15-20 minutes.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks with the remaining sugar for 2-3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Strain into the caramel-lined souffle dish or ramekins.
  5. Place the dish/dishes in a roasting pan and pour in enough boiling water to come halfway up the side of the dish. If using ramekins cook for about 30-35 minutes until just set. For one large dish bake for 40-45 minutes. When it is done a knife inserted should come out clean. Remove from the roasting pan and cool for at least half an hour, then chill overnight.
  6. When ready to eat, run a knife along the edge and turn out onto a dish. Make sure to get all that beautiful caramel; it is the best part!