Flan is a delicious custard dessert with caramel sauce that is popular in many Latin American countries. Both Cuba and Mexico have their own versions of this classic treat. While Cuban flan and Mexican flan share some similarities, there are also some key differences between the two.
What is flan?
Flan is a custard made with eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. It has a smooth, creamy texture and is often topped with a layer of sweet caramel sauce. The custard is baked in a pan, usually in a bain-marie or water bath to prevent curdling and help it set.
Flan likely originated in ancient Rome, but it became popular in Spain and Portugal during the Middle Ages. As Spain colonized the Americas, flan was brought over and incorporated into the cuisines of many Latin American countries.
Over time, unique local versions of flan developed in different regions. Cuban flan and Mexican flan are two of the most well-known flan variants today.
Key differences between Cuban and Mexican flan
While Cuban and Mexican flan share a custard base, there are some differences that give each version its own distinct flavor profile:
– Eggs: Cuban flan uses egg yolks only, while Mexican flan uses whole eggs. Egg yolks result in a richer, denser custard.
– Sugar: Cuban flan has less sugar than Mexican flan, resulting in a slightly less sweet flavor.
– Milk: Cuban flan is made with condensed milk, while Mexican flan uses evaporated milk. Condensed milk gives Cuban flan a very thick, ultra-creamy texture.
– Vanilla: Cuban flan infuses a vanilla bean in the milk for intense vanilla flavor. Mexican flan uses vanilla extract.
– Cinnamon: Mexican flan often incorporates cinnamon for a warm, aromatic flavor not found in traditional Cuban flan.
– Cuban flan is cooked in a water bath at a low oven temperature for an extended time, resulting in a velvety texture.
– Mexican flan is cooked at a higher oven temperature in a bain-marie for a shorter time, yielding a firmer, gelatinous texture.
– Cuban flan is known for its very thick, syrupy caramel layer. The caramel is made ahead of time and poured into the flan pan to harden before adding the custard.
– With Mexican flan, the caramel is often thinner in consistency and poured over the cooked flan after unmolding.
– Cuban flan is typically served unmolded, sliced into wedges with the caramel sauce on top.
– Mexican flan is most often served molded, with the caramel sauce poured over the complete molded custard.
Cuban Flan Recipe
Here is a traditional recipe for smooth, decadent Cuban flan:
– 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
– 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
– 6 large egg yolks
– 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
– 1 cup sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar with 1⁄4 cup water. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar is completely dissolved and caramel begins to form, about 10 minutes. Pour caramel into an 8-inch round cake pan, tilting pan to evenly coat bottom. Let harden.
2. In a saucepan, combine condensed milk and evaporated milk. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Heat over medium-low heat just until mixture begins to steam, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes to infuse flavors.
3. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks until blended. Slowly whisk about 1 cup hot milk mixture into yolks to temper them. Then whisk yolk mixture back into remaining milk mixture. Pour custard through a fine-mesh strainer into prepared pan over caramel.
4. Place cake pan into a large high-sided roasting pan. Carefully pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake until just set but center still jiggles slightly, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
5. Remove flan from roasting pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.
6. To unmold, run a thin knife around edges of pan. Invert onto a rimmed serving plate and tap pan gently to release flan. Slice into wedges and serve chilled.
Mexican Flan Recipe
This recipe produces the traditional Mexican-style flan with a smooth custard and thin caramel topping:
– 1 cup sugar
– 1⁄4 cup water
– 4 large eggs
– 1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
– 1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
– 1 tsp vanilla extract
– 1 inch cinnamon stick
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Make caramel: In a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar and water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to a boil. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture becomes golden, about 5 minutes. Pour caramel into a 9-inch round cake pan, tilting pan gently to coat bottom evenly. Set aside.
2. Make custard: In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Pour custard through a fine-mesh strainer into prepared cake pan over caramel.
3. Place cake pan into a large high-sided roasting pan. Carefully pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come about halfway up sides of cake pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes until just set but still jiggly in center. Remove flan from water bath and cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
4. To unmold, run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert onto a rimmed serving platter. Shake gently to release flan. Pour remaining caramel from pan over the top of flan. Slice and serve chilled.
Key Similarities between Cuban and Mexican Flan
While Cuban and Mexican flan have their differences, they do share some key traits:
– Custard base: Both are made with a combination of eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. The custard undergoes cooking to set it before serving.
– Caramel sauce: Sweet caramel is used in both Cuban and Mexican flans to provide an appealing flavor contrast to the creamy custard.
– Chilled serving: Flan is best when thoroughly chilled, which allows the custard to set fully and the flavors to meld.
– Versatile dessert: Flan can be dressed up or kept simple, served alone or paired with fruits and whipped cream. Both Cuban and Mexican flan are crowd-pleasing desserts.
– Similar technique: The basic process is the same – caramelizing sugar, preparing a custard, baking in a water bath, cooling, and inverting to serve.
Flan around Latin America
While Cuban and Mexican are two of the most recognized styles, flan is enjoyed all over Latin America. Here are some of the many flan varieties:
Puerto Rican Flan
Puerto Rican coconut flan adds coconut milk and shreds of fresh coconut for tropical flair. It’s commonly served around Christmas.
Peruvian flan incorporates local flavors like cinnamon, cloves, and Andean mint. Some versions even add a touch of Pisco brandy.
Dominican flan is characterized by the use of lots of milk, egg yolks, and vanilla, yielding an especially rich and creamy dessert.
In El Salvador, flan is made extra thick and sturdy, almost like a firm pudding. It is often flavored with cheese.
Colombian flan uses panela (unrefined cane sugar) instead of white sugar for a hint of caramel flavor in the custard.
Ecuadorian recipes use both sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk for ultra-creamy flan with intense caramel.
In Brazil, flan incorporates local coconut milk and often fresh basil or other herbs like lemon thyme.
Flan Cooking Tips
Making excellent flan requires care and patience. Here are some top tips for success:
– Use high-quality eggs for the richest flavor and silkiest texture.
– Combine the milk and eggs gently to prevent curdling or over-mixing.
– Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of overcooked egg.
– Cook the caramel until it’s a deep amber color for the best flavor.
– Don’t shortcut the water bath method – it cooks the flan gently without curdling.
– Chill flan thoroughly before unmolding for clean results and neat slices.
– Use a thin, sharp knife when slicing baked flan to get perfect wedges.
– Garnish with freshly whipped cream, berries, or citrus slices if desired.
– Refrigerate any leftovers and enjoy within 3-4 days for best quality.
Flan vs Other Desserts
Flan has some similarities to other popular desserts, though the differences are what make it unique:
Flan vs Crème Brûlée
– Flan uses more eggs relative to cream than crème brûlée for a richer, more substantial texture.
– Flan incorporates caramel sauce whereas crème brûlée tops custard with a hard caramelized sugar crust instead.
– Flan is traditionally baked in a water bath, while crème brûlée is baked directly in ramekins.
Flan vs Custard
– Flan has a soft set texture while basic custard is traditionally cooked longer for a firm set.
– Flan highlights caramel flavor while vanilla is the dominant flavor in most custards.
– Custard varies widely in ingredients while flan tends to use a standard milk-egg-sugar formula.
Flan vs Pudding
– Flan starts with an egg-based custard base; many puddings use cornstarch or other thickeners instead of eggs alone.
– Puddings come in a wide array of flavors whereas flan showcases primarily caramel and vanilla notes.
– Flan is always baked; pudding can be baked but is often prepared on the stovetop.
Flan vs Cheesecake
– Flan showcases a soft, velvety egg custard texture while cheesecake has a dense, sliceable consistency.
– Flan highlights caramel while cheesecake focuses on tangy cream cheese flavor.
– Cheesecake uses crust on the bottom; flan is crustless but with caramel on the bottom before unmolding.
The Final Verdict
So is Cuban flan really that different from Mexican flan? The answer is both yes and no. While the two share a classic flan custard base, Cuban and Mexican flans have distinctly unique ingredients, textures, and flavor profiles owing to their diverse culinary cultures. Cuban flan tends to be thicker and richer, while Mexican flan is lighter and more aromatic.
The preparation differs as well – Cuban flan using primarily egg yolks and condense milk baked low and slow, versus Mexican flan with whole eggs and evaporated milk baked faster at a higher heat. Toppings and serving styles also set the two apart. So in terms of the enjoyment experience, Cuban and Mexican flan can certainly taste different.
At the same time, they are both quintessentially flan. The creamy, velvety custard and melty caramel sauce are signatures of this beloved Latin dessert. Cuban flan and Mexican flan each offer their own appealing variations on a theme. Whether enjoying Abuelita’s vintage caramel flan recipe or the latest trendy flan cafe creation, all flan lovers can agree this versatile dessert holds a special place in Latin cuisine.