Food

Leche Flan: The Upside-Down Crème Brûlée

May 2, 2020
Leche flan recipe

Despite its Spanish-sounding name, Leche Flan is a Filipino egg custard dessert. Think of it as an upside-down crème brûlée. Though I fear my ancestors will roll in their graves if this abominable description of a traditional dessert reaches them in the afterlife.

This sweet dessert has a bitter history dating back to the 333 years of Spanish colonization. Which explains the name.

I can’t recall an instance where I had crème brûlée in my entire human existence. Perhaps during my infant years I had, though it’s least likely. Perhaps in the previous life? And why is it so difficult to spell?

The following photos could probably lead us to our answers.

Here’s a photo of a crème brûlée by Alex Munsell on Unsplash.

Crème brûlée by Alex Munsell

Here’s a photo of leche flan I took six years ago. Never mind the atrocity, it taste and looks better than the photo.

Filipino Leche Flan

Crème brûlée is made by molding the custard and finished off by torching sugar on top. Leche flan involves torching the sugar on the mold before pouring the custard batter in.

Ingredients-wise, leche flan requires sugar, egg yolks, and condensed and evaporated milk. Crème brûlée uses creme in place of the dairies.

Leche Flan Recipe

  • Yolk from 8 large eggs
  • 1 large can evaporated milk (370ml)
  • 1 large can condensed milk (300ml)
  • sugar
  • zest from 1 large lemon (optional)
Ingredients for making leche flan.

That’s all the perishables you’ll need for this dessert. If you’re one of the wrong grammar-wielding smart alecks who makes obnoxious Facebook trick questions, you’ll also need gas for the burner and water for creating steam.

Also you’ll need a leche flan mold, we call it “llanera” in the Philippines, but you may also use a tempered glass baking dish or anything that can withstand extreme heat.

Plus a little bit of common sense.

How to make leche flan.

Separate the yolk from the eggs and place in a mixing bowl. There’s a YouTube video for that, including an irritating lifehack. Depending on where you are, the abominable Gordon Ramsay may pop-up as Skip Ad, consider yourself warned.

Mash the yolks lightly. DO NOT WISK. Bubbles formed in the mixture will created a less desirable texture in your dessert. This is not a recipe for scrambled egg.

Pour the condensed and evaporated milk into the bowl.

As I child, I have always wondered what made condensed milk sweet. The answer is sugar. It’s sweetened condensed milk, in case you haven’t figured it out. Which is why you could not resist licking the sharp lid and running your fingers inside the can.

How to make leche flan.

I used zest from two small limes instead of one lemon, they serve the same purpose — to balance the sweetness of this dessert because life can’t be overly sweet. Add it and continue mixing gently.

At this point, formation of bubbles will be inevitable but you will sift that with a sieve so do not worry. And if you’ still contest about whisking the eggs, again, this is not scrambled egg.

How to make leche flan.

Set aside the mixture for an hour or overnight to allow flavors to blend and further reduce the bubbles. That’s the last time we’re talking about bubbles and the eggs.

Once you’re ready to steam the custard. You’ll sugar glaze the molds or whatever you’re using.

This is not the time for doing the math and I am too lazy to measure my tin pans. Leche flan molds come in standard sizes in the Philippines. So what’s this all about? We’re talking about the amount of sugar glaze.

For this batch, I used four leche flan molds. And in each mold, I used two heaping teaspoons of sugar. More than enough to glaze the bottom of the molds. More than enough, because you’ll want the golden sugar syrup when you flip the dessert for serving.

Llanera, leche flan mold.

Melt the sugar in the pan on top of the burner. If you’re using a glass baking dish or anything else, this process is not possible.

Instead, melt one-fourth cup of sugar and and the same amount of water in a separate pan. When the sugar water boiled and turn golden, pour and spread at the bottom of your preferred container.

Depending on the size of your mold, the amount of sugar specified may not be enough. It’s okay, next time you’ll know better. Also don’t worry if you used too much sugar, it won’t mix with the egg custard.

You’re aiming for something similar to the one at the bottom of the left photo. But if you happen to have burned the sugar like that in the upper right, it’s okay too. The bitterness of burnt sugar makes for an amazing contrast in this sweet dessert. Just like revenge — bittersweet and best served cold.

Wait for the sugar and molds to cool down. While doing so, prepare your steamer.

Put enough water in the steamer that would last boiling continuously for 30 minutes without drying off. Need I explain this? Also, place a kitchen towel on top of the strainer. I’ve seen this done numerous times so I won’t contest its purpose. But supposedly, the cloth will catch the water in the steam so it won’t condense on the molds.

When the sugar and molds had cooled, place a sieve on top and scoop the egg and milk mixture into the molds. Seal the molds with aluminum foil and steam for 30 minutes.

“Should I put the molds before or after the water on the steamer starts boiling?”

It doesn’t matter. I’ve done it both ways and had the same result. The only different is that the hot steam may scorch your hand while placing the molds over the boiling water. So put the molds before firing off the gas.

Turn off the gas and leave it uncovered, allowing it to cool. You may place the leche flan in the refrigerator or serve it immediately if you want.

To serve, run a kitchen knife between the leche flan and the mold. Flip the mold into a plate and lift. Or you can eat it directly on the mold, it’s your call.

***

We devoured the leche flan faster than I can take photos. So here’s another photo from 2013 but less atrocious than the previous one.

Leche Flan

As I review this article prior to publishing, I sensed the presence of unexplained anger and angst. This is a sweet dessert!

***

The Pandemic Journal has evolved into a Pandemic Food Series as it now covers mostly the food we consumed during the lockdown. And since I made a batch of leche flan, I might as well post the recipe.

Also, the sole recipe on my archive is picking up in the search engines (probably because of this pandemic) so it’s about time to give it an archive companion. The one with Baba ghanoush is not a proper recipe post, and hey, you may want to check my Pandemic Pineapple Pizza, too!

And as I always say, this is not the time to hate on food or what goes into our pots.

Stay sane, everyone!

This piece initially came out as an entry under Pandemic Journal (Pandemic Journal Day 16: The One With Leche Flan Recipe). Also on Medium.

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