Flan with Crunchy Sugar Tops

6U8A90066U8A9025Flan always reminds me of my grandmother, Corina. She is from Caracas, Venezuela. She and my grandfather, along with their two young children, moved to southern Missouri when she was in her late thirties, and she had to adapt to a completely new way of life. Not only did she move from a large city to a cattle farm in the country, she also moved to an area where no one spoke her native language. She was a brave soul. 

My grandmother is not passionate about cooking, to say the least. She certainly has many passions in her life (including fashion, photography, her family, and her many, many animals), but cooking just isn't one of them. So weekends at her farm growing up meant a lot of frozen pizzas and Dollar General cereal. So it was a grandkid's dream! There were a few dishes she did get excited to prepare, and these stick out to me. One of these dishes was flan. This is not her recipe, though, as I have a feeling hers may have involved some kind of store-bought mix, but the flavor is all the same. I've fancied them up with spun sugar nests, but you can easily eat them without these special flourishes, and they are still totally delicious. 

How to make flan Flan with Crunchy Sugar Tops, makes 5-6 servings.
Adapted from The Perfect Flan by Epicurious

2 3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
8 yolks

For the spun sugar:
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup water

In a pot over low/medium heat stir together 2 3/4 cup milk with the salt and vanilla bean. Scrape the beans from the pod and whisk in, then toss in the pod. Remove from heat and allow that to steep for about 30 minutes while you prepare everything else.

How to make flanIn another small pot heat 1 cup sugar 1/3 cup water over medium/high heat. Whisk until the sugar fully dissolves. Heat just until the mixture begins to turn brown. Remove from heat and pour the hot sugar mixture into 5-6 ramekin or small heat-proof bowls.

In a large mixing bowl stir together the egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve, removing any clumps and the vanilla bean pod. Stir the cooled milk mixture in with the yolks. Pour this mixture over the slightly cooled ramekins (filled with the browned sugar). Place in a baking dish. Fill the dish with water so the water level reaches halfway up the ramekins. Bake at 350°F for 50-55 minutes until the custard is set (it will still have a slight jiggle in the center). Allow these to cool for a couple hours, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight (up to two days).

Now let's make crunchy sugar nests! First prepare your work surface. Place a few small bowls down on a cutting board. Lightly oil them. Also be sure your work surface is covered with plastic wrap or wax paper in case some of your sugar gets off the cutting board.

6U8A8952In a small pot, stir together the 1 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up and use a candy thermometer to check the sugar's temperature. Once it reaches 300°F, remove from the stove top. Allow the mixture to cool to around 280°F.

6U8A89706U8A89846U8A8989Dip a fork in the mixture. Pull the sugar up over the oiled bowls and wave it around, like a wand. This will stretch the sugar and give it time to cool some as it drops toward the bowls. I like to wear an oven mit while I do this. Always be careful when you work with really hot sugar. Once that cools, lightly oil your clean hands and gently work the spun sugar off the bowls. Lightly press to form small nests; place over the tops of your inverted flans.

6U8A89996U8A9033I would put this in the category of you're-really-going-to-impress-guests with these if you go all out and do the crunch sugar tops. Plus I really love the crunch paired with the smooth texture of the flan. It's very crème brûlée. Yum! Enjoy. xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photography: Sarah Rhodes and Emma Chapman. Photos edited with Imogen from the Folk Collection.

  • This looks absolutely beautiful! So creamy I can hardly believe it.

  • Wow not only do these look delicious, they are so aesthetically pleasing! Sugar spinning seems so fun and reaps beautiful results, would love to try it myself!

  • I was completely thrown by this interpretation of a ‘flan’ not at all what think of as a flan. See this for explanation http://www.irishamericanmom.com/2012/08/21/irish-fruit-cream-flan-2/

  • This looks fantastic, l was tasting it of my laptop. Every time l think about it l still can taste it.
    What l really want to ask you is the corn surip what is it and would l be able to get it in the UK or would anything else do.

  • Your blog is so inspiring! I love the work and attention to detail you put in.
    Bombshell approved.
    Gonna put my homework on hold and browse around here for a bit 🙂


  • My grandma wasn’t very ambitious in the kitchen either, she was more interested in her garden. That meant alot of bologna sandwiches and canned soup, which as a kid I loved.

    Also just want to say how much i LOVE seeing the pics of Emma actually cooking to compliment the curated shots of food. It’s great to see a woman doing something she genuinely enjoys, much more inspiring!

  • Yummy! These look delicious! I love hearing about your memories behind the dish as well!


  • I love flan!!! the greatest thing ever:) We usually combine it with chocolate cake!!! Yes its called choco-flan yall should try it.

  • Looks AMAZING! And well done on those spun sugar – those tops can be so tricky sometimes. 🙂

  • Do you know if it’s possible to substitute soymilk for the whole milk?? This recipe sounds sooo yummy…but unfortunately, cow’s milk is a no-go for me!! 🙁


  • I didn’t know flan only had 6 ingredients (well, do water and salt even count?)!
    I love the caramel layer that you add into the ramekin before baking, and once you pop the flan out of the cup, you get a nice top, especially with the sugar nests. So cool!!

  • oh gosh i love flan! it’s probably one of my favorite desserts 🙂

  • That is so gourmet. Love it.

    X Courtney


  • This is such a cool snack! I’ve never heard of anything like this, but it sounds delicious! 🙂


  • Well, this is just the prettiest thing, ever! Love it.

  • Always love a personal touch to a post..this one is sweet.. I love the crunchy sugar topping, always wanted to make one, its so cool!


  • It makes me happy to hear you have Venezuelan ancestors, I’m from Venezuela as well but moved to Canada 4 years ago 🙂 Oh, and the recipe looks amazing!

  • Wow! it came out pretty perfect! I´m sure the taste is much better!

  • These look so so good! What a great recipe! How perfect for summer!


  • Hi Kristina! I definitely feel lucky to work with such great people!

    I just followed you 🙂 – Jacki

  • It’s amazing you guys prepped so many blog in advance for when half the team would be in Costa Rica! Your team is incredible :). Hope the rest of the team (not on vacay) is enjoying this week too. Ps. Jacki – I finally tracked you down on Instagram last night and followed you!

  • Holy guacamole! These look Amazing! I love the idea of the crunchy top, you’re right, It’s very crème brûlée! Looks delicious!

  • The sugar looks like it was fun to make! That’s a cool story about your grandma. I’ve actually never had flan, so this is a first for me!

  • Wow, your flan looks really fancy! And so delicious! I love the story about your grandma, many times our love for a certain recipe comes from great memories!

  • Looks fabulous. Just a spelling update – Caracas, not Caracus. 🙂

  • This looks awesome!!!! Flan is the best and the sugar-crunchy top looks pretty cool.
    Just fyi, it’s Caracas not Caracus.

  • These are so pretty and delicious looking!

    That’s hilarious your grandmother didn’t like cooking. My grandparents would always buy the collection of mini-cereal boxes and all the grandkids would fight over who got which flavor 🙂

  • Yummm…flan!!! my sister makes it with condensed milk. its.so.good!

  • These look scrummy! And those spun sugar baskets are so gorgey!
    It’s really interesting how you call this a flan, here a flan would be exactly the same as you made it but it would sit in a pastry base. Ahh I always learn something new from reading your cooking posts!
    P.S. your grandma sounds awesome!

  • goodness me, how pretty and perfect are these morsels? gorgeous job with the sugar tops!

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