Why This Recipe Works
- Passing the flan mixture through a fine-mesh strainer prior to baking ensures a silky-smooth texture.
- Baking the flan in a water bath surrounds it with gentle, uniform heat as it cooks, preventing it from taking on a rubbery and dry texture.
Leche flan is a beloved dessert in the Philippines, our twist on the famous baked custard. This recipe marries caramelized sugar with an extra rich, dense, and creamy custard. Unlike the flan that you typically eat in Latin America or Spain, this one contains a dozen egg yolks(!) plus sugar, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract, and a sprinkle of lemon zest for brightness.
Originally, leche flan relied on carabao, or water buffalo, milk for its dairy base, which boasts a higher fat content and richer flavor. During the American occupation of the Philippines, soldiers introduced evaporated and sweetened condensed milk and, as a result of this added convenience, canned milk replaced carabao milk and the dish soon became a crowd-pleasing dessert present at every gathering.
I grew up making flan with my lola (grandmother) and tita (aunt), and I never get tired of making this recipe, which was passed down to me by my lola, in part because of its short ingredient list and easy-to-follow directions. To start things off, you make the caramel, which involves cooking the sugar until it dissolves into a syrup. You’ll want to keep a close eye on it and stir, stir, stir, until it takes on a deep copper brown hue, and then, when it's ready, you have to work quickly and pour it into your baking dish and swirl it around to fully coat the bottom. From there, simply whisk together the egg yolks, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and vanilla extract, add the custard mixture to your caramel-lined dish, and sprinkle lemon zest over the top. Once baked, you have to thoroughly chill the finished flan so that the custard fully sets, after which you can run a knife along its edges and invert it onto a serving plate.
Leche flan can simply be enjoyed on its own, but you can also balance a square of it on top of a serving of halo-halo. Then, be like my tita, and bake all those leftover egg whites into an angel food cake.
Leche Flan (Filipino Baked Custard)
A creamy, dense, and ultra-rich flan.
- 7 ounces granulated sugar (1 cup; 200g)
- 12 large egg yolks (8 ounces; 225g)
- One 12-ounce (355ml) can evaporated milk
- Two 14-ounce (800ml) cans sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 325°F (163°C). Bring 3 quarts (2.8L) water to a boil to use in a water bath during baking.
In a 2-quart saucepan, place sugar over medium-high heat and cook, stirring constantly with a fork, until sugar melts and syrup is a deep copper brown color, about 5 minutes. Carefully pour the hot caramel into an oven-safe 8-inch square baking dish, making sure the bottom is evenly coated with caramel. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, evaporated milk, condensed milk, and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large bowl (this ensures that your flan will be smooth).
Pour egg mixture into the prepared caramel-lined dish. Tap dish gently on a work surface to pop any bubbles. Sprinkle lemon zest evenly over top and cover with foil. With the tip of a sharp knife, poke 2 1/2-inch slits in the foil so moisture can escape and won’t condense onto your flan as it bakes.
In a roasting dish, casserole dish, or another high-walled, oven-safe dish, set a wire rack in the bottom and place the foil-covered flan-filled dish on top. Place in oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the roasting dish until about halfway up the side of the flan-filled dish.
Bake until flan is just set to the touch, with a slight jiggle in the center, and an instant read thermometer reads 175°F (80°C) in the center, about 1 hour.
Transfer flan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cool fully in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To serve, run a paring knife or offset spatula along the edge to loosen the flan from the dish. Set a larger plate, upside down, on top of flan-filled dish, then quickly flip both dishes over to invert the flan and catch the caramel sauce. Slice into 36 one-inch squares and serve.
Oven-safe 8-inch square baking dish, wire rack, large roasting pan
Make-ahead and Storage
Leche flan can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.