A popular dish throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as other regions influenced by Spanish cuisine, flan is the ultimate simple but showy dessert. The creamy custard hides a layer of rich caramel that, when flipped out of the pan, reveals itself to be an amber sauce that spreads to the edges of whatever party platter you’ve transferred it to. Instant applause.
Some versions have a tendency to collapse on the serving plate. This homemade flan recipe incorporates a bit of cream cheese, which adds tangy flavor and imparts just enough structure to make unmolding a breeze. It also uses a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract—if you’re ever going to splurge, a custard dessert is the time to do it. Custards bake to a lower internal temperature than cakes and cookies, which means all the nuances present in those tiny vanilla seeds make a difference. Finally, the caramel sauce is cooked to a dark amber—a shade darker than usual. The slightly bitter tinge contrasts beautifully with the eggy custard mixture.
This flan gets baked in a loaf pan instead of the more common pie plate or cake pan. This does two things: The higher sides mean that the water bath it’s baked in is less likely to slosh into the tin, and it also unmolds easily into an attractive loaf that can be cut into neat slices. Look for the top of the flan to jiggle slightly when you (gently) jostle the baking pan.
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cup (200 g) sugar
Tbsp. light corn syrup
Custard and Assembly
oz. cream cheese, room temperature
cup (100 g) sugar
large egg yolks
vanilla beans, split lengthwise
14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
12-oz. can evaporated milk
cup whole milk
Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Set a 9×5″ loaf pan inside a 13×9″ baking dish. Bring 1 cup (200 g) sugar, 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup, and 3 Tbsp. water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally (do not stir). Cook until caramel is dark amber, about 4 minutes. Carefully pour into loaf pan and let sit until set, about 10 minutes.
Custard and assembly
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature, and ½ cup (100 g) sugar in a medium bowl until combined. Beat in 4 large egg yolks and 3 large eggs; scrape down sides of bowl. Scrape in vanilla seeds from 2 vanilla beans; reserve pods for another use. Reduce mixer speed to low, add one 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk, one 12-oz. can evaporated milk, and 1 cup whole milk, and beat until custard is smooth, about 1 minute.
Pour custard into loaf pan. Pour water into baking dish to come ¾” up sides of loaf pan. Bake flan until pale golden on top and just set in the center but still a little wobbly when jiggled, about 1½ hours. Remove loaf pan from baking dish and transfer to a wire rack. Let flan cool in pan 15 minutes, then chill at least 3 hours and, preferably, up to 12 hours.
Just before serving, run a small knife around edges of flan. Set a platter on top of loaf pan and carefully invert flan onto platter.