Northern European Flan
© Denzil Green
A flan can be either a cake made with flour, or, it can be a large baked custard, made in Spain, topped with caramel. This is sometimes referred to by English speakers as a “leche flan” (“milk flan”) to distinguish it from the more Northern European version.
The Spanish version is also made in Portugal and Mexico. It is basically a giant Creme Caramel, baked in a mould, and turned out for serving. It is made with eggs and milk. The standard flavouring is vanilla, but may include nuts such as almonds or pistachios, or lemon. You can also buy powdered mixes made by companies such as Goya.
The custard is made, set aside. The flan pan (referred to in English as “Flan Moulds”) is heated with some sugar and water in it until the sugar caramelizes, then the custard is poured on top, and cooked. It can be cooked over top a double-boiler, or in the oven sitting in a water-bath.
When cooked and cooled, it is turned out on a plate, and cut into wedges to serve, with each piece getting some of the caramel sauce.
The Northern European version is a shallow sponge cake. It is baked in a round cake pan, whose bottom is raised in the centre, causing the cake when turned out of the pan to have a plateau in the middle with raised edges around it. The pans used to make the cakes in are referred to in English as “Flan Pans.”
Generally, a custard is spread on top of this, then it’s topped with fruit, and a glaze.
You can also buy these flans ready-made in many grocery stores. Sometimes they may be referred to as “cake bottoms”, with the “flan” being the final product that you make with the cake bottom as your base.
Savoury Flans found in the English speaking world are like the Spanish versions, being essentially a large baked custard, but will contain vegetables or meat, and essentially be a crustless quiche.
Latin “flado” (meaning “custard”) >> Old French “Flaon” >> Middle English >> “flaton” >> “flawn” >> “flan”.