Leche…Leche… (Flan)

Growing up in our home, leche flan screamed “Christmas is near”!!! lech1My mom didn’t bake much so if she was futzing around with the oven it almost always meant she was making leche flan. There is something about the critical mass of food and high calorie consumption during the Christmas season that means our intake of egg yolks and egg whites quintuples for a period of about two weeks… I always thought leche flan was completely over the top on the sweetness scale and it is the food I most associate with my favorite Visayan word that describes food – “ngilngig” which translates to something like “too rich,” a “tooth tingler,” “too sweet” or something along those lines. I understand that you have to grow up with the “ng” sound and if you don’t get it early you can’t say that word properly…try it on a Norwegian friend for example…heehee.

At any rate, leche flan was NOT a particular favorite of mine and lech2it is only in the last few years that I have really appreciated a good leche flan. As with all things popular, there are a thousand and one variations on this classic that only used eggs/yolks, sugar, milk and some citrus flavoring. Amazing how so many variations or quality levels can emerge as a result of the ingredients used and the technique applied. Before I give you the recipe that I use, let me describe the perfect flan for Marketman. It must be medium to dark caramelized sugar meaning less sweet to the palate though the same amount of sugar as a blonder version. The texture of the flan must be incredibly smooth and possess minimal bubble-lization. It must be light yet dense all at the same time. It must come across as eating something sinful.

In the run-up to the holidays this year, I tried several different recipes for leche flan. lech3I returned thrice to Gene Gonzalez’s version in his book Cocina Sulipena and that is the recipe that I describe here, with just a few alterations. First make the caramelized sugar by dissolving 1.5 cups of sugar over medium heat until it is bubbling and turns a nice medium brown. If you have never done this before, here are some tips. Some folks add a little water to easy along the process. Use a nice clean (no traces of oil) stainless steel pan (a non-stick pan will not work as the sugar tends to seize up again and won’t melt easily). Be patient. Do not stir at all. Just swirl the pan gently once some color begins to appear. Watch carefully as you can go from blond to burned in seconds.

Do not be afraid to experiment, sugar is relatively cheap, until you get the “right” color. lech4Remember, pale means sweeter and too dark means bitter. Always use oven mitts when handling the hot sugar, it is in fact hotter that flames as it can stick to your skin and singe it. I repeat the warning, hot caramelized sugar can be dangerous. Once you have achieved the desired color, pour into leche flan pans and swirl to coat the bottom and up part of the sides of the pan. For some reason, leche flan pans are made of these cheap lightweight aluminum and they work well…no fancy versions from Sur La Table required. I buy mine in bulk in Divisoria for PHP6 (PHP9 at Shoemart grocery in Makati) so that when I give leche flan away they can take the pan and all… Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

Next, prepare the flan. In a mixing bowl place 15 large egg yolks lech5(whites carefully separated), 1 large egg, 1 and ½ cups granulated white sugar (I sometimes used caster sugar) zest of one nice lemon, not those grotty ones with serious acne (use microplane for superior quality of zest) and 3 cups of fresh carabao milk. Mix thoroughly but gently so as not to agitate the mixture too much and add bubbles that will get stuck in suspended animation in your cooked flan. Some people strain this mixture but I don’t bother. Place in pans with caramelized sugar. The carabao milk really does make a difference and it is much more readily available now with vendors at weekend markets carrying bottled carabao’s milk. If you use cow milk, the texture will be the same, the final product lighter and still delicious, but the carabao’s milk version is memorable.

Next, place pans in a larger pan with water that comes up about halfway up the flan and cover. lech6Take pains to ensure that steam on the top of the pan does not fall into the flan. I use a large fish poacher for this step but you can use any old pan without holes, add water and put a foil tent on top of it. Bake in the oven for about 40-45 minutes until just set. Remover from the oven and the hot water and let cool. Once cool, run a sharp knife around the edges and carefully turn it over onto a serving platter…voila! Easy, delicious, festive! Some like to serve this cold (out of the fridge), I like it at room temperature.

I have made leche flan more times in the past two months than in my entire life. lech7I tried organic eggs or grocery versions. I tried cow and carabao milk, I tried caster and regular sugar. I tried whisks, spatulas, straining, dayap, lemon, etc. Bottom line… my perfect leche flan uses the most expensive organic eggs you can find with the most intense yellow yolks. Definitely carabao’s milk, lemon over dayap for smoothness and none of the jarring effect of green bits in a yellowy/caramelly confection and either sugars do well. I do use a whisk to mix it but very gently to avoid the bubbles. And I do like the leche flan dark and almost slightly bitter… This post is dedicated to my mom who is long gone but who would certainly have leche flan on her top ten list of foods to have around the holidays…I like to believe we are allowed to continue eating our top ten despite our hopefully cloudy new sorroundings in the after life… Merry Christmas Mom!


51 Responses

  1. Hello MM, I would just like to ask if you have tried using a steamer instead of using an oven and if such, what was the result? My mother usually uses her trusty steamer, so I was wondering if this is really advisable for making leche flans. Happy holidays!

  2. Wooooohooooo! Leche flan! Remember the funny Pinoy fruit salad of buco, nata de coco, fruit cocktail and Nestle cream? Top it with leche flan and you have got yourself a wonderful treat! This is great too to fill the groove of the Iloilo biscocho. I tell you — Leche flan has some obscenely wicked applications. ;) Ah!

  3. Like you i like the kind with the almost burnt sugar sauce, but i like the bubbly flan with the air pockets/holes. When th flan is too creamy, it’s too OTT for me, just way too rich…

  4. The only time I’ve made a leche flan was three xmases ago, in the mountains down in Bukidnon, we made do with fresh chicken eggs (we were doing volunteer work, and living on a chicken farm), had evaporated milk, and sugar and dayap. I had a chance to visit a bookstore in Cagayan de Oro before the holidays so I surreptitiously read a couple of recipes from the cookbooks, and tried to recreate it with the pots and pans on hand, no oven, just a makeshift steamer on a charcoal tip. It was pretty good, although my glaze was a tad darker than I had hoped. But it made our xmas dinner more like xmas than if we had not had it (one very sorry looking chicken and some gulay from the fields).

  5. Is is possible to infuse leche flan with vanilla flavor? I have fresh pods and want to use them… the question is how?

  6. Marisa, I’ve never tried it but it would make sense to me to omit the citrus peel and instead cut open one vanilla bean pod and scrap out the soft inside and mix with the milk before putting in the molds. Just make sure the seeds don’t clump up, you want the flavoring to spread all over. Don’t include the pods, throw that into a jar with some white sugar and make flavored sugar for other uses… Lei, it can be made in a steamer but the risk of water dripping onto the top of the flan is high…it’s an esthetics thing, but since you turn it over, it may not bother you. I use an oven out of habit but I suppose the steamer would work as well…

  7. Hi MarketMan,

    Like your mum, my mum loves making leche flan for the holidays. Well in fact, not just during the holidays – any excuse is good enough for her!! However her recipe calls for evaporated and condensed milk and sugar and egg yolks only, no citrusy flavourings, unlike your interesting version. But her secret, at the risk of being banished by her forever for giving it away, involves beating the mixture for at least 30 minutes, to ensure a nice smooth creamy texture – absolutely no bubbles!!! Well she always said what’s worth having is worth waiting for :-) Long live the leche flan!!

  8. At 53 Cypress, Mom used only a steamer with an old petaled leche flan pan that had little 1-inch legs to set it above the boiling water.

    I think the oven works better, with less water on the top of the flan from the condensation.

    Would love to know what happened to that old leche flan pan, though…

    Merry Christmas and Happy Calories…

  9. when i was 15, i made some leche flan from scratch, sadly i didn’t have the methods nor the knowledge, it turned out great but it looked like $#!% ,it was pale and it didnt have this nice amber caramel (redundant hehehe) at the bottom

  10. Lori, will go to your site and check out the leche flan…for some reason, your link above doesn’t work…

  11. Bubbles come from overcooking the leche flan, you are on your way to curdling the whole thing. Warm your pan in the oven for 5 min so caramel slides and coats the bottom and sides more evenly. Try using vanilla and lemon zest. Strain mixture into the caramel lined pan. Do not cover your leche flan, bake in a bain marie with hot water around the pan at 300F. Take it out before the center sets. Only trial and error will tell you when it is time to take it out. Cool and refrigerate for several hours before serving. In NYC I use only pure Bonny Brook cream, 1 quart of heavy cream to 1 1/2 c. eggyolks, 1 c. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tbsp. lemon zest. Cardiac arrest dessert. For Christmas dinner I serve leche flan along side a whole poached Bosc pear with raspberry coulis, a mint leaf, and Christmas cookies and champagne!

  12. my version of leche flan is 3 whole eggs, 1 can of big evaporated milk and 1 cup of white sugar or the 2nd class sugar. I beat the eggs using a whisk but not over beat. Add milk slowly while stirring it using a ladle then add the sugar and continously stirring slowly to avoid creating bubbles. For the caramel, i put around 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar directly in the pan or in the llanera and add a drop of water and directly put in the stove to caramelize the sugar. Once done, i have it cool a bit before putting the leche flan mixture. Then cover it with aluminum foil and steam it for 25 to 30 mins. This recipe would make 3 to 4 pans of leche flan..Happy cooking !

  13. I havent tried making leche flan before,its my mum or my auntie who always makes it. Its my favourite pinoy desert and is always present in our Noche Buena. Though Iam loving the British Foods I still miss the Pagkaing Pinoy. Iam willing to learn how to make leche flan so I will give it a go. No problem of the ingredients as we have pinoy stores here. Well, I can even get it at the local shops, but not the carabaos milk I think. :-)

  14. Yummm, leche flan is my favorite desert of all time. Always puts a sparkle in my eyes everytime I see it on the desert table at any gatherings or parties… hehe :), I always look for LECHE FLAN!!! However, it disappoints my appetite after my first bite and I taste the lemony flavor, for me it takes away the traditional creamy and eggy flavor of the Leche Flan, but then again, this only applies to my own personal preference. :)

  15. i use vanilla beans in my leche flan, and the little black specks look and taste gorgeous. also, i just use egg yolks, a can of condensed milk, some evaporated milk, and i cook in a big pot over the stove filled with water and a small cup to elevate the leche flan tin which i cover with foil to prevent any water from dripping. here you can see what the vanilla beans look like on the surface of the flan= https://www.imagestation.com/picture/sraid206/p22cbef9569e0788e02b90086fd5532e3/eedce794.jpg

  16. denise, the vanilla beans are a nice touch! Jonathan, there are probably as many variations on leche flan as there are pages in the daily paper…

  17. Leche Flan, my kids love it and in fact my son asked if I could make leche flan when i get home later. That is why I surfed the net cause I’ve never made leche flan before. I will try your recipe. I will definitely need lots of recipes now that it’s summer and my grade schoolers are just at home :)

  18. MarketMan,
    I love leche flan and i make it during holidays, birthdays and anniversaries too! Eversince i started making leche flan, i always use brown sugar for the caramel part of it bec of the colour i get (hehehe, daya). I think i only used white sugar once when i was out of brown sugar, what would u recommend? I just follow the basic recipes available to us nowadays, egg yolks, milk, vanilla, lemon and sugar. But because i use brown sugar for the caramel part, i use less white sugar than what the recipe calls for, and i admit it still is a bit too sweet for others..I guess i have to try using white sugar next time to see the diffirence..

  19. i have no idea on how to cook leche plan please send me a guidelines..thanks

  20. nice blog.
    I wonder if its okay to use disposable plastic cups as molders for the flan. I was planning to sell it in solo size.

  21. Hi


  22. hello there,may i ask if it is okay that my sister’s ingredients are condense,yolks,vanilla and sugar?and cooked it in 20 minutes? just a simple leche flan.

  23. hello…the leche flan is really tasty…thanks for the recipe, i’ll try this at home… :-)

  24. The recipe I’m using is close to yours. 10 egg yoks, 2 cans big evap and 6 Tbsp sugar but I use a steamer. Next time, I’ll try bain marie method.

  25. try kenny roger`s custard (leche flan), its one of the good ones i tried the was 25-30 buck per plastic container…..
    i my self has a recipe for leche flan it was discovered thru accident and some trial and error hehehhe….. i want to make a leche flan that sticks to your spoon and to your mouth eheheh does it mean i need to use more eggs?? ..
    i use 12 eggs(2-4 whole eggs, the rest yokes, 2 cans evap, and 1 can condensed milk) from my experience if you add more egg white the end result tends to more stiff and has more bubbles… correct me if i’m wrong

  26. i really love leche flan so i tried to make one when i was a kid i dont whagt i did but i was cooking it for about 2 hours cuz i thought its gonna burn the top now i know its the caramel that makes it. i will be making one again and now i am 36 years old.. wish me luck.

  27. Joseph, try using half of 1 cup of leche flan.. Our recipe is quite similar but I only use half of the big can of evaporated milk..

  28. Joseph, sorry about that.. I meant (in the first line) that you try using half of 1 BIG CAN of EVAPORATED MILK for your recipe..

  29. i use a little salt and a bit less sugar. i use the basic english cream recipe. it is a bit more impressive if you make one big massive recipe of the custard and then: churn to make ice cream, bake and torch the top for burnt cream, pour over a store bought cake, top a fruit pie, mix some flour to make pastry cream, and steam to make leche flan. it does take longer and more arm work.

    here’s what i learned vanilla pod can be infused when you heat the milk and cream. it’s beast to add chocolate after the yolks have been mixed in. zests are best placed at the last few minutes before steaming. other flavors to try: roses, black pepper, chili, strawberries, and tabasco.

  30. If for example, you are allergic to egg, is it possible to make a leche flan without egg? Can you use other alternatives or egg substitute?

  31. clarisse, eggs are the essence and one of two lynchpins of a fantastic leche flan (milk being the other)… I wouldn’t MAKE a leche flan if you couldn’t use real eggs… perhaps you would opt to make another dessert without eggs instead…

  32. Can you make Leche Flan with egg,sugar and evap milk only less condensed???whats the taste..I saw somebody write there in the comments that they dont used condensed milk…

  33. Leche flan is actually a favorite dessert in Norway. It is especially served at Christmas time. It’s called karamellpudding. It is sometimes decorated with whipped cream and fruits but is usually served just like leche flan.

  34. Hi MM! I’ve been a silent fan of your site. Your recipes have never let me down yet. Just a quick question: How many tins will this recipe yield? I see 2 flan tins in the pic, but is that the final count? Appreciate your response so I can buy the tins! Thanks and keep on cooking.

  35. Rea, if I am not mistaken, you will need at least 4 tins. The tins are very reasonably priced, so erring on having more is best. Check the january 2009 archives for later posts on leche flan, there are several entries on the topic.



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