Serious Eats: Sweets
Dulces: Flan de Caramelo (Caramel Flan)
Jerry: So, where do you want to eat tonight?
Patty: How about La Caridad again?
Jerry: Again?! How much flan can a person eat?!
—Seinfeld, "The Serenity Now"
I was stumped for a clever introduction for this entry on flan and after an absurdly long 15 minutes of playing peek-a-boo with the cursor I walked out to the living room, turned on the TV, and caught a Seinfeld episode right as the above exchange was happening. Yes, I have strange psychic/telepathic abilities. Paranormal activity aside, the question of how much flan a person—or a whole people—can eat is completely valid. I've often wondered myself because among the Spanish-speaking crowd, there seems to be an insatiable hunger for it.
If Latin America were to become a single Union, the national dessert would most likely be flan. Lately I've taken to polling Spanish and Latin American friends—and strangers—about what they most commonly eat for dessert, and flan is the answer 90% of the time. You'll see flan stamped on every Latin American restaurant menu, in many home fridges, and even in the baking aisle in powdered form, like Jell-O pudding.
I resisted writing about flan for a long time. "How stereotypical!" I thought. After the eye roll followed performance anxiety. There's an overwhelming amount of bad flan made, served, and somehow eaten every day. Bad flan, riddled with deep dimples, like a bad case of cellulite. Bad flan, undercooked and slippery, like a strange serpentine sea creature swimming down your throat.
Good flan should have slight jiggle, but more along the lines of a trainer-tightened posterior than a waterbed. Good flan is minimalist and sleek, like an expensive silk blouse.
Flan, or more precisely egg-based custard, has been in existence since Roman times, where it was mostly presented as a savory dish. Variations and permutations found their way around the world, but arguably, today when we hear the word flan we think mostly of the cream-colored custard with a pool of deep amber, burnt sugar caramel.
The recipe that follows is my mother's go-to; it can be made in un dos por tres (a snap) and has always turned out silky and perfectly set. There are thick flans, but this one is on the slimmer side—the caramel-to-custard ratio is just right. Make it and you'll see what all the fuss is about.