Very Easy Flan

Custard desserts are so comforting and welcome, and as a self-avowed custard coward, which involves anything that has to be baked in a bath of hot water, I tend to hesitate making them, even though I have pretty good luck with them when I finally screw my courage to the old sticking point. Then add to that my basic caramel cowardice, too, and you get a family that ends up pretty often with apple crisp for dessert. Except for this recipe, flan would be a big once every-five-year treat.

Flan’s custard part is baked over a caramel-like sauce and served inverted so the caramel sauce flows over the custard and dribbles deliciously onto the plate. My island neighbor Melissa Olson made this one time when I had supper with her and her family. I was terribly impressed and Melissa avowed it was easy to make, which I doubted, so she gave me the recipe. It is actually pretty easy; the custard goes together very simply which means I could save all my fretting for melting sugar for the caramel.

Melissa’s recipe says to melt the sugar without stirring it. Other recipes say to stir it all the time. I didn’t touch it, and after about ten minutes of that, I poked it and found I had a kind of sugar jellyfish floating on a golden layer of caramel whereupon I said, “oh, heck, I’m going to stir this up.”  And I did. That worked just fine. If you are the kind of person who can pay attention to two things at once, you can start melting the sugar while you mix the custard. About the time the custard is mixed, the caramel will be ready for your attention.

Some flan recipes recommend cinnamon as a spice. I have a soft spot for nutmeg. This one calls for vanilla. You decide.

I made one whole flan in a glass baking dish. If you want, you can use custard cups for tidy little individual servings.

Very Easy Flan
Serves: 4-6
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or more to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • Cinnamon or nutmeg to taste, optional
  • ½ cup sugar
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and put the kettle on for hot water.
  2. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl, then add the condensed milk, water, vanilla and salt and beat all together. Set aside.
  3. Put the half-cup of sugar into a heavy saucepan and place over medium heat to melt it, stirring if necessary to turn it into syrup. It will be a golden color.
  4. Dribble the syrup into the baking dish or divide it among the custard cups and swirl it to cover the bottom of the baking dish.
  5. Pour the custard into the baking dish or cups.
  6. Set them into a baking pan and pour hot water to about half-way up the side of the custard dish.
  7. Place them in the oven, and bake for an hour or until a knife inserted comes out clean. The custard will puff a little and firm up in the center.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool enough to handle the baking dish.
  9. To unmold, run a knife around the edge of the baking dish or cups, then put a plate over the top of the dish, and quickly invert. If you do this too slowly, the caramel will dribble out.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.