There are many misconceptions about leche flan. One, that it is the Filipino version of crème brûlée. It is not, actually. Leche flan is the Filipino version of crème caramel, not crème brûlée. The difference? Crème brûlée has a hard caramel top created by sprinkling sugar on top of the cooked custard then broiling or torching the sugar to caramelize it. Crème caramel has a soft and gooey caramel topping.
A second misconception about the leche flan is that it can only be cooked in the oval-shaped aluminum llanera. I really don’t understand that insistence. I have a friend who, when she wanted to make leche flan, went out of her way to buy the llanera. The thing is, any heat-proof cookware — whether metal, plastic, glass or ceramic — can be used to make leche flan.
A third misconception is that beating the egg yolks and milk together will create a smoother and creamier custard. Wrong. Beat them and air bubbles will form. And if you beat too much, the fat content of the milk might separate and that’s disaster. Stir the yolks and milk together instead. Gently but thoroughly. That’s how you get the creamy consistency. And, of course, you need a good proportion of egg yolks to milk.
A fourth misconception is that steaming the leche flan makes it more delicious. Not true. You can cook the leche flan in the oven and it will be just as delicious. We’re just used to the steaming method because that’s how it’s been done in the Philippines for ages. A baine marie inside the oven will do as well. So, there.
There is an old leche flan recipe in the archive — single serve leche flan, actually — but, in that recipe, I used molasses instead of the traditional caramelized sugar. This new leche flan recipe has the traditional caramelized sugar topping.
Leche Flan (Steamed Crème Caramel)
- Caramelize the sugar with about 3 tbsps. of water in a pan then pour into the mold in which you intend to cook your leche flan. See the step-by-step illustration on how to caramelize sugar. Once you’ve poured the caramelized sugar into the mold, don’t panic if the mixture hardens. It will harden naturally but it will turn soft again during cooking.
- In a bowl, mix together the condensed milk, evaporated milk, salt and lemon zest. Gently but thoroughly.
- Add the egg yolks to the milk mixture and stir. Again, gently but thoroughly.
- Pour the egg-milk mixture into the prepared mold. Steam over simmering water for 35 to 40 minutes, depending on the depth of the mold you’re using.
- Now, the hardest part. You have to wait for the leche flan to cool. If you try to invert it while hot, it will just break apart. And the caramel will be too thin and runny. So, cool the thing first. I cheat by sticking the leche flan in the freezer for 15 minutes then transferring it to the fridge for another 30 minutes.
- When the leche flan is cool, run a knife around it to loosen it from the mold.
- Place the mold on one hand. Put a plate on top of the mold. With the palm of your other hand flat on the bottom of the plate, invert the leche flan. It should fall off easily with some of the caramel running down the sides.