This is a little bit of a break the rules dessert – there is sugar in it so it’s not low carb. But it is gluten free. Traditionally this is made by caramelizing white sugar. But white sugar is really off the list and I wanted to find a way to make this without using it. Xylitol doesn’t work. But coconut sugar works beautifully! Coconut sugar is considered to be more healthful than refined white sugar because it has a much lower glycemic index value. It’s also high in potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. It also has the bonus of having a subtle coffee flavor.
What’s the difference between crème caramel and flan? Nothing. Just depends on whether you’re in France or Latin American. In Latin countries there are variations involving coconut milk, condensed milk, cinnamon, etc. Don’t confuse this with crème brûlée, which is different, richer, and has burnt sugar on top.
Crème caramel can be made individually or as one large one. I’ve made the large version and it tasted fine but was pretty much of a disaster. Besides the San Andreas fault down the middle, it sagged further and further each time I cut a slice. My advice is to go for the individual cups since they seem fool proof.
When I first read about the technique for making flan, I got to the part about baking the custard cups in a bath of hot water and just dismissed it as being unusual, difficult, not worth the effort, and easier to just order at my local South American restaurant where they’re delicious. But here’s my experience – it’s quite simple and totally fun when the flans come out of their little molds, surrounded by a lovely syrup, looking perfect and beautiful on the plate. This is also great party food. You can make them ahead of time and unmold right before serving, which just takes 2 minutes. They look fancy and special and taste that way too. Serve them with a few raspberries or strawberries and you have a beautiful and delicious dessert.
Here’s the overview so you can see how easy this is: melt sugar in a pot and pour into little cups, heat milk and cream and add it to eggs, pour that into the cups too, and bake. Not too bad right?
Enjoy and please let me know how this worked for you.
- For the Caramel:
- 3/4 cup coconut sugar
- 3 tablespoons water
- For the Custard:
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup cream or half and half
- 3 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- You need 8, 6-cup custard cups. I use the Pyrex ones that come in packages of 4.
- For the Caramel:
- In a medium saucepan and without stirring, bring sugar and water to simmer over medium-high heat. Continue to cook for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully (it's hot!) pour an equal amount of caramel into each ungreased custard cup. Allow caramel to cool, about 15 minutes.
- For the Custard:
- Adjust oven rack to center and preheat oven to 350°. Put a dishtowel in the bottom of a baking dish or roasting pan, so custard cups don't slip. Place cups on top of towel in pan, making sure that they don't touch each other.
- Whisk eggs, yolks, and sugar in large bowl.
- In medium saucepan, heat milk and cream, stirring occasionally, until steam appears and/or instant-read thermometer registers 160°. Remove from heat and gently whisk warm milk mixture and vanilla into eggs until combined but not foamy. Pour milk mixture into a pitcher so that it's easy to fill the custard cups. Divide mixture evenly between cups.
- Bring 2 quarts of water to boil in a kettle. Pour boiling water into pan with custard cups (yes, on the towel) until water reaches half-way up cups. Cover pan loosely with aluminum foil, leaving room for steam to escape. Bake until a paring knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Transfer custards to wire rack to cool. Make sure to cool to room temperature before unmolding. May also be made up to 2 days ahead and kept covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. They taste good cold too.
- To unmold, slide a small sharp paring knife around the entire cup perimeter, pressing knife against the side of the cup. Hold serving plate on top of cup and turn upside down. Custard will release onto plate. Jiggle gently to help it unmold if necessary. Serve immediately. Tastes great with berries.