Homemade oven steamed Crème caramel
|Alternative name(s)||Flan, caramel custard|
|Place of origin||France, Spain|
|Serving temperature||Cold or warm|
|Variations||Crème brûlée, crema catalana|
|Other information||Popular throughout:|
Crème caramel (French: [kʁɛm kaʁaˈmɛl]), flan [flɑ̃], or caramel custard is a custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top, as opposed to crème brûlée, which is custard with a hard caramel top. The dish is eaten throughout the world.
Crème caramel used to be ubiquitous in European restaurants; food historian Alan Davidson remarks:
In the later part of the 20th century crème caramel occupied an excessively large amount of territory in European restaurant dessert menus. This was probably due to the convenience, for restaurateurs, of being able to prepare a lot in advance and keep them until needed.
Etymology of names
Both crème caramel (French 'caramel custard') and flan are French names, but flan has come to have different meanings in different regions.
In Spanish-speaking countries and in North America, flan refers to crème caramel. This was originally a Spanish usage, but the dish is now best known in the United States in a Latin American context. Elsewhere, including in Britain, a flan is a type of tart somewhat like a quiche.
The Modern English word flan comes from French flan, from Old French flaon, in turn from Medieval Latin fladonem, derived from the Old High German flado, a sort of flat cake, probably from an Indo-European root for 'flat' or 'broad'. The North American sense of flan as crème caramel was borrowed from Latin American Spanish.
Preparation, cooking and presentation
Crème caramel is a variant of plain custard (crème) where sugar syrup cooked to caramel stage is poured into the mold before adding the custard base. It is usually cooked in a bain-marie on a stove top or in the oven in a water bath. It is turned and served with the caramel sauce on top, hence the alternate French name crème caramel renversée.
Due to the delicate nature of a crème caramel (that it can be cut by resting a spoons edge on it), turning out larger dishes requires care; as the crème caramel may physically split (tear) if provoked. Larger dishes also require more care when heating, so as to ensure the custard does not scramble on the outside or remain raw on the inside. Whilst crème caramel demonstrates a chefs ability to carefully prepare a dish, smaller crème brûlées can be prepared at a much faster rate, as the dishes will heat to a more uniform temperature more rapidly and they are served as cooked (i.e. still in their ramekins).
An imitation of crème caramel may be prepared from "instant flan powder", which is thickened with agar or carrageenan rather than eggs. In some Latin American countries, the true custard version is known as "milk flan" (flan de leche) or even "milk cheese", and the substitute version is known as just "flan".
In Venezuela and Brazil it is often made with condensed milk, milk, eggs and sugar caramelized on top. The Venezuelan version is known as quesillo ("small cheese") and in Brazil, it is known as pudim de leite condensado ("condensed milk pudding").
In Mexico a variation of flan called Flan Napolitano is made, where cream cheese is added to the recipe to create a creamier version.
Cuban flan known in Spanish-speaking countries as "Flan de Cuba" is made with the addition of the whites of two eggs and the flavoring of a cinnamon stick.
A similar Cuban dish is "Copa Lolita", a small caramel flan served with one or two scoops of vanilla ice-cream. Other variations include coconut or rum raisin topping.
Puerto Rican flans are coconut-based and called flan de coco, made with both condensed milk and coconut milk or with cream of coconut, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. Coconut flan is usually seasoned with cinnamon, rum, and vanilla.
Another popular flan is flancocho, usually piña colada flavored with a layer of cream cheese and Puerto Rican style sponge cake underneath. The flancocho can also be made with cream cheese and cake batter worked into the flan mix.
In the Philippines, flan is known as leche flan (the local term for the originally Spanish flan de leche, literally "milk flan"), which is a heavier version of the Spanish flan made with condensed milk and more egg yolks. Leche flan is usually steamed over an open flame or stove top, although rarely it can also be seen baked. Leche flan is a staple in celebratory feasts.
A heavier version of leche flan, tocino del cielo, is similar, but has significantly more egg yolks and sugar.
Caramel custard is an all time favorite, especially in the larger coastal cities, and in former Portuguese colonies such as Goa, Daman and Diu. It is a milk mixture baked in a dish with sweet caramel lining its base. Flan is a staple on restaurant menus in the beach resorts along India's coasts and also prepared regularly in the home kitchens of the Anglo-Indian Goan, Malayali, Mangalorean and Parsi communities.
A fusion cuisine variety consisting of any traditional Regional Recipe as base with added non-traditional fresh or syrup based flavorings like mint, peppermint, citrus, ginger etc.
Caramel custard is a very popular dessert in Malaysia. First introduced by the Portuguese in the 1500s and sold year-round today, this dessert is a popular favourite served in restaurants, cafes, hotels and even Ramadan bazaars for breaking the fast.
Crème caramel was introduced by the French and has been common in Vietnam. It is known as bánh caramel, caramen or kem caramel in northern Vietnam or bánh flan or kem flan in southern Vietnam. Sometimes black coffee can be poured on top when served, giving the dish a new tone and distinctive flavour.
- Davidson, s.v. crème caramel
- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition (1989); Petit Robert 1973.
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