Flans are creamy, soft, and melt in the mouth as you eat them… what’s not to love? Today, we honour one of the oldest desserts in the world by bringing you its different iterations around the globe. From classic traditional flans to more creative contemporary ones, you are sure to find a flan to titillate your taste buds!
Where Do Flans Come From?
Flan has a travel history that could put even the most well-traveled of us to shame… Did you know that the dessert’s origins go back to the Roman Empire? The creation of the flan is actually quite by coincidence: when they domesticated chickens, the Romans found themselves with too many eggs! Not knowing what to do with them, they turned to the Greeks, and learned egg-based recipes from them. Flan was one of those… and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
As a matter of fact, the dessert gets its name from the French word “flaon”, which itself comes from the Latin “flado”, meaning a flat cake. Before its fall, the Roman Empire brought flan to European countries. In the 1500s, Spanish settlers then brought the dessert to Mexico during the Spanish conquest and occupation. Flan continues to be a beloved Latin American delicacy today.
Originally, flans were savory dishes that cooks served with meat or fish… Fortunately, the Romans soon experimented with a sweet version flavored with honey. This led to the popular dessert as we know it. Yes, the basic ingredients and process for making sweet flan remain pretty much the same as they were centuries ago!
Today, most flans consist of a custard base with eggs, sugar, milk, and sometimes cream cheese. Depending on the variety, the milk can be cow’s, goat’s, evaporated, or condensed milk for extra sweetness. Often, bakers add bourbon vanilla, which particularly brings out the flavors in any flan. French and British flan varieties can also feature shortcrust dough and bear the name of custard tart, or flan Parisien in French.
A classic flan with shortcrust base. The caramelized sugar gives the confection its distinctive golden brown color (Boulangerie Chez Fred)
Because flan is a world-traveled dessert on top of being one of the oldest ones, there are many varieties and flavors. From crème caramel in France to lucuma flan in Peru… There really is a flan for each palate. Let’s take a look at only some of the examples!
Crème caramel in France, also known as crema caramella in Italy, and simply flan in Spain: This flan has a consistency that resembles jelly, or a firmer pudding. While they may appear solid on your plate, all three iterations of this flan will melt on your tongue as soon as you take a bite. They contain eggs, sugar, milk and vanilla.
Custard pie in the UK, or Flan parisien/Flan pâtissier in France: As for this one, it may look like a cheesecake. Indeed, it resembles a cake more than the other flans, with its shortbread or puff pastry base, and its pastry cream filling. Custard pies are also made with whipping cream and some cornstarch or flour to thicken.
Pudim molotoff in Portugal: This Portuguese dessert is very unique. First, it is baked in a donut-shaped mold. Second, it is made with only egg whites, meaning that it is a meringue flan! Pudim molotoff consists of meringue filling poured over a pool of caramel sauce. Similarly to the crème caramel, it is then turned upside down.
A Portuguese pudim molotoff with its caramel sauce (Teleculinaria)
Flan napolitano or flan de queso in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela: With its cheesecake consistency, this flan is reminiscent of the European flan pâtissier… except it contains condensed and evaporated milk, and is actually made out of cream cheese! This is a popular Cinco de Mayo dessert.
Flan de cajeta in Mexico: Equally important to Mexican culture is the flan de cajeta. Yes, Mexico loves its flans! In this Latin American flan recipe, bakers use cajeta, a Mexican type of dulce de leche made with goat’s milk.
A Colombian mango flan with fresh mangoes (Kiwilimon)
Lucuma flan in Peru and Chile: This dessert features the flavor of the exotic lucuma fruit, which is deliciously described as a combination of peaches and maple syrup. The custard itself contains heavy cream and milk.
Flan de mango in Colombia: Similarly, this Colombian recipe starts off with the same base ingredients as the abovementioned flans. It gets extra flavor from puréed and fresh sliced mangoes, and sometimes rum!
Leche flan in the Philippines: Leche flan resembles a crème caramel or a Spanish or Mexican flan, but it uses no cream and more egg yolk. This means it is also firmer than Mexican flan.
Hazelnut flan: Hazelnuts always add a pinch of toasty sweetness to desserts… and the combination of caramel and hazelnuts is delicious. We even found a recipe for a hazelnut and Kahlúa flan!
Lavender and peach flan: The dessert can feature lavender and peaches mixed with condensed milk, evaporated milk, and/or cream cheese! This combination is truly one of a kind, giving the classic dessert a herbaceous and fruity flavor.
Despite custard being traditionally known as a pastry filling, the love for flans shows that if the world agrees on one thing… it sure is that custard can be a dessert on its own! With so many delicious flavors, we have yet to discuss caramel-orange flan, Brazilian coconut flan, pumpkin flan… and the decadent chocolate espresso flan! After this virtual world tour, which of these creamy desserts is your flan-vorite? Whether you choose to have a classic custard pie, a flan napolitano, or a mango flan, we got you! Look here for flans near you.
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