I can’t think of anything simpler to make than this easy silky smooth crème caramel also known as leche flan or caramel custard. It’s a luscious dessert topped with caramel syrup that will have everyone asking for seconds. A recipe that can easily be halved, it uses just four whole large eggs.
Caramel custard can be steamed on the stove top, but since I don’t have a steamer, I baked mine in a bain marie.
For one recipe, I used five baking dishes—a combination of ramekins and soufflé dishes. You can use oven proof pyrex glass dishes or even regular cake pans. The key is to keep the diameter no wider than five inches. I’ve tried using larger pans, and it came out fine except that it took a lot longer to bake. For this recipe, the smaller the baking dish, the better.
Prep time is roughly 15 minutes, and most of it is spent just waiting for the caramel syrup to boil.
If you use a food processor, it will take just a few pulses to combine all the ingredients. A wire whisk would also work.
The combination of the caramel syrup with the custard creates a wonderful medley of flavors.
The smooth and creamy texture of crème caramel aka leche flan or crème caramel custard is a delight to the palate.
The recipe box at the end of this post will have all the details and measurements, but here are some key points in making crème caramel:
- Caramel syrup. As soon as the caramel syrup turns a light golden amber color, remove the pot immediately from the heat and pour the syrup in the baking dishes just enough to coat the bottom. The caramel will harden in a matter of seconds. You want the caramel to harden so that when you pour the milk over it, it will stay separate.
- Custard. Pulse the eggs, milk and vanilla extract in a food processor. Run a knife or spatula through the mixture to break up any foam or bubbles. The fewer the bubbles the smoother the custard will be. Cover each dish with aluminum foil and arrange them in a deep roasting pan or lasagna pan.
- Water bath. Position the oven rack on the lowest level just above the heating element. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the pan in the oven. Use a full kettle’s worth of hot water to fill the water bath. Be sure to wear oven mitts so you don’t burn yourself.
- Bake time. Bake the crème caramel for 65 minutes at 350°F, lower the temperature to 300°F and remove the foil covers then bake for an additional 30 – 35 minutes. Use a pair of long tongs to remove the foil and again, always use oven mitts to protect yourself.
The crème caramel is done when the edges are firm. The color will have a yellow tinge, just a tad darker than before it was baked. If the center shakes ever so slightly, that’s ok as it will continue to set with the internal heat. Remove the dishes from the water bath and let them cool completely. Ideally, chill the dishes covered overnight before turning them out.
To turn out the crème caramel from the dish, run a knife around the edge, place a plate on top and flip it over. Sometimes, there will be suction that holds the custard onto the dish. If that happens, just slide the knife again around the edge to break the suction.
Here’s a recap of the steps in one place for easy reference.
Crème caramel aka leche flan or caramel custard is a super easy recipe that doesn’t require fancy ingredients. A dessert that’s perfect to make in advance, it’s simple yet rates high on the wow scale.
- 1 cup sugar (210 g)
- ¼ cup water (65 g)
- 4 large whole eggs
- 2 cans evaporated milk (12 fl oz / 354 ml per can)
- 2 cans sweetened condensed milk (14 oz / 397 g per can)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 4 -5 oven proof pyrex baking dishes or ramekins – preferably smaller than 5 inches in diameter
- Water bath (bain marie) – roasting pan or lasagna pan large enough to hold the baking dishes
- Tongs for uncovering the baking dishes
- Food processor or wire whisk
- Position the baking rack to the lowest level just above the heating element. Preheat oven to 350°F. Have your oven proof baking dishes and the large pan for the water bath ready.
- Pour the water over the sugar in a small sauce pot. Swirl the pot to dampen the sugar. You don’t have to stir. Turn the heat on to medium high and let the mixture boil. After about 8 – 10 minutes, when the syrup starts to turn a light golden amber color, remove the pot from the heat and divide the syrup among the baking dishes. Pour syrup just enough to coat the bottom of each baking dish. The caramel will harden within a few seconds.
- Prepare the hot water for the water bath. Fill a kettle with water and let boil while you prepare the crème caramel.
- Give the eggs a few quick pulses in a food processor to blend. Add one can of evaporated milk and pulse together with the eggs. Then add the rest of the evaporated milk, the condensed milk and the vanilla extract. Pulse until well blended. Run a knife or spatula to break up any foam or bubbles on the surface. The fewer the bubbles, the smoother the custard will be.
- Pour the milk mixture over the hardened caramel syrup in each baking dish. Cover each dish with aluminum foil. Arrange the baking dishes in a large pan. Place the pan in the oven then pour the entire kettle of hot water into the water bath. Make sure to wear oven mitts to avoid burning yourself.
- Bake for 65 minutes covered. Lower the temperature to 300°F. Wear your oven mitts and remove the foil from each baking dish using a pair of long tongs. Bake for an additional 30 – 35 minutes uncovered.
- The custard is done when the edges are firm. If you give it a shake and the center wobbles just slightly, it’s ok as it will continue to set from the internal heat. The color will be a very pale yellow just slightly darker than before it was baked.
- Remove from the oven and let the baking dishes cool completely. Ideally, let them chill in the fridge covered overnight before turning out.
- Slide a knife around the edge of each baking dish. Place a plate on top and invert the dish to turn out the crème caramel. If the crème caramel doesn’t slide out right away, don’t worry, just run the knife around the edge again. Sometimes there is a suction that holds the custard, but once that is broken by sliding the knife around the edge again, it will detach from the dish very easily.
- Use an overturned bowl to cover each custard and keep chilled.
Easy Silky Crème Caramel aka Leche Flan or Caramel Custard