The world calls this dessert Spanish flan but, in the Philippines, it is leche flan. Leche, Spanish for milk, is one of the dessert's two main ingredients. Made with egg yolks, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, Filipino leche flan is a rich steamed custard topped with a syrupy caramel. It is one of the most popular desserts served at parties, fiestas and other special occasions. This sweet dish is also popular in some Latin American and Caribbean countries. Among the Hispanic population of North America, leche flan is also known as creme caramel.
Is leche flan similar to crème brûlée? Similar, yes, but not the same for two reasons. First, leche flan is steamed, not baked. Second, the caramel topping of leche flan is a syrup made by melting sugar directly in the pan where the custard will be steamed.
There are only two cooking steps involved in making leche flan. The first is caramelizing the the sugar; the second is steaming the caramelized sugar and custard together.
Leche flan can be cooked in one large shallow bowl and cut into squares or wedges to serve. Alternatively, it can be cooked in smaller single-serve ramekins.
- 2 cups sugar
- 12 egg yolks
- 2 cups evaporated milk
- 2 cups sweetened condensed milk
- a pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- In a heavy thick-bottomed pan, melt the sugar over medium heat until it liquefies and turns an amber color. There is no need to stir the sugar but swirling the pan occasionally helps make a smoother and crystal-free syrup.
- Once the syrup acquires the color of amber, quickly remove it from the heat and pour into the ramekin (or ramekins) to cover the bottom. Caramelized sugar hardens as it cools and you need to work fast to transfer the syrup to the ramekins before it hardens in the pan.
- Start heating water in a steaming pot.
- In a mixing bowl, lightly stir the eggs yolks. Pour in the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk. Add the salt and lemon zest. Stir until the mixture is evenly blended. Stir, do not beat nor mix too hard, to avoid forming air bubbles in the mixture.
- Pour the egg yolk-milk mixture into the ramekin (or ramekins). Steam over simmering water for 20 to 40 minutes depending on the size of the cooking vessel. The leche flan should be set and firm to the touch.
- Remove the ramekin (or ramekins) from the heat. Cool the leche flan then chill. Use a butter knife to loosen the sides of the flan then invert onto a serving plate or individual dessert plates. Note that some of the syrup will flow down the sides of the flan and form a pool on the plate. That is how it should be.
- Leche flan is perfect by itself but it can be served in many other ways. It is a popular topping for iced desserts like maiz con hielo and halo-halo.