Leche Flan, one of the most popular local desserts since the time of our grandmother’s grandmother (and possibly even longer than that) is said to have originated in Europe. Also called crème caramel or caramel custard, this classic dessert is made of soft custard layered with rich caramel on top. This is the main difference of the flan with crème brulee, which has hard caramel on top.
Flan & Creme Caramel
The terms flan and crème caramel are French words, but they are used with different meanings in other regions. In North America and Spanish-speaking nations, flan refers to crème caramel. There are regions who consider flan as a custard tart, usually with fruit toppings. The name crème de custard and crème caramel is used in other European and Commonwealth countries.
Leche flan is topped with caramelized sugar, which gives the rich sweetness to the mild-flavored custard. In other countries, packaged versions of crème caramel can be bought, which makes cooking easier. Here in the Philippines, we prefer to cook our leche flan from scratch. The flan or custard is made of egg yolks and milk. Those in the provinces prefer to use fresh carabao’s milk instead of the canned ones. Carabao’s milk is richer and gives the flan better texture. It certainly makes a lot of difference when it comes to taste. Then we caramelize the sugar until it turns into a nice medium brown. The mixture is poured into thin, aluminum pans, which give the leche flan its perfect oval shape. Our lolas prefer to use dayap gratings to give the flan that little bit of bitterness that balances the sweetness of the dessert.
When my lola used to cook leche flan for Christmas and fiestas, I would wait excitedly for the moment when she would turn the aluminum pans upside down over the plates, during which the flan would slowly land down on the flat surface, exposing the rich, yummy caramel on top oozing down the side of the custard. Who could resist digging in?