How to make French flan / set custard

Home made flan / set custard cooling on rackFollowing my post on how to use up milk, you will find below a picture-based recipe on how to make a flan, which is the French near equivalent to English set custard (only the French flan uses whole eggs not just yolk!). The following quantities will make about 12 ramekins.

First, make caramel using 300g sugar + 5tb water.

Bubbling sugar in saucepan

Once the sugar has dissolved, stop stirring and remove from heat when it turns gold. If your caramel is too light, it will taste very sugary. If it too dark, it will taste and smell burnt. In this instance, start again ortherwise it would spoint your dessert.

Tip: Non-stick saucepans are not recommended to make caramel as their coating might get damaged by the high heat. Yeah, I know….. I am using a non-stick saucepan…. doh!

While the sugar is boiling away, prepare your ramekins:Empty ramekins for flan making

When the sugar has turned into caramel, divide the mixture into the ramekins.

Empty ramekins with caramel base

Now prepare the flan mixture using 1 litre milk + 5 large eggs + 80g sugar + 2tb vanilla extract.

While the milk is heating up in a saucepan to near-boiling point, whisk the other ingredients with a fork.

Raw ingredients for French flan / set custard

Pour the hot milk and keep whisking.

Hot milk added to ingredients

Once combined, pour the mixture through a sieve into a large easy-pour jug (if you only have a small 1-pint jug, you will need to repeat this process two or three times). Be careful at this point as it could be a messy job with milk dribbling down the bowl as you pour it…. Divide the mixture into your ramekins, place inside a pre-heated oven  (160 degrees C) and carefully fill the larger dishes with freshly boiled water up to about a third of the ramekins (the hot water enables a more even cooking).

Cook for about 20 minutes (I left mine for too long… and the custard started to get brown all around the ramekins).

French flan / set custard in oven

Tip: if you do not have enough ramekins, you might want to try and bake the mixture inside a deep gratin dish, itself placed inside a roasting tin to hold the bain-marie water. Remember to extend the cooking time so that the custard has time to set. At 160 degrees C, a large dish can take 30 to 45 minutes to cook depending on the depth of the custard. Lift carefully the side of the dish (with oven gloves of course!) and give it a little shake. If the custard has a slight wobble, you know it is cooked.

Switch the oven off and leave to cool slightly before taking out of the oven so you don’t burn yourself! Then, place on a cooling rack to speed up the cooling process.

Tip: Use the griddle of your grill pan if you do not have a cooling rack.

When cool, cover the ramekins with a small piece of clingfilm pulled tightly over the top so that you can store them on top of each other inside your fridge.

Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can customise the recipe to your taste. Leave the caramel out and add other ingredients such as raisins or even fresh fruit, chocolate chips, 1 or 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder, etc. You could replace some of the milk with double cream too. For imagination, walk around the supermarket aisle and see what manufacturers put inside their custard-based desserts. Just remember that whatever you add will of course increase the amount of the final mixture. Have fun!