After chatting here and there with colleagues and friends about everything, nothing, but especially food, the conclusion was clear: everyone loves flan! And it goes even further, the French don’t love flan in a detached way, simply raising their eyebrows “yes, it’s good”, they love it with a smile and narrowed eyes as a bonus. This preparation based on dough and milk apparatus with the sweet scent of vanilla is nothing extraordinary, and yet it appeals to all generations from Lille to Marseille, via Bordeaux. And if this dessert, which is part of what we call “baker pastries”, is so popular, it is above all thanks to its apparent simplicity, far from being show offand its regressive flavor.
Indeed, the milk which largely makes up the creamy mixture is reminiscent of comforting childhood desserts.
When it comes to pastry flan or Parisian flan depending on the name, all gourmands agree on one point: the dessert must remain simple. No need to pack boxes of it, certainly the flan is not as die-hard as some jewel pastries, but that’s not what we’re asking of it. We’re just looking to have this contrast between well-cooked dough, creamy texture, and caramelization on top. And that’s all ! No need for gold leaf, whipped cream, or even superfluous topping, the flan does not like to be prepared.
In other countries too, recipes and variations of flan exist, like the famous pastéis de nata in Portugal.
>> Also read: Quentin Lechat at Royal Monceau: “Flan is not a palace cake, yet sales have exceeded all our expectations”
How to make a homemade pastry flan like at the bakery?
Step n°1: the pie crust
Let’s start with the dough. In the flan, the dough does not need to be original or bulky. It must be of the same thickness on the bottom and around the edge of the mold, and remain in place during cooking. No need to over-perfume it, you have to leave the leading role to the cream. As for the type of dough, what to choose between shortcrust, shortbread, dark, or sweet? We will follow the advice of pastry chef Christophe Felder in his cult book “Pâtisserie” which specifies that the darkening dough is ideal for preparing a pastry flan, because the latter maintains good resistance during cooking, even if we use a mold high – which it is – and is perfect for all shapes of tarts containing a liquid mixture.
In short, the pastry to darken is neither shortbread, nor broken, nor sweet, nor flaky, but if we really had to compare, we can compare it to the shortcrust pastry, with the difference that the pastry to darken is slightly sweet, and more crumbly.
The ingredients of the darkening paste
250 g of T45 flour
1 pinch of salt
35 g of sugar
125 g butter at room temperature
2 tbsp. tbsp. cold water
Mix the flour, salt, sugar, and butter until you obtain a sandy texture.
Add the egg and water, knead quickly by hand until you obtain a homogeneous dough. As soon as it is homogeneous, stop kneading.
Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
What we like about the pastry flan is also this beautiful thickness of cream.
Which mold to make a flan?
No good pastry flan without a mold! For this dessert, it is important – or at least strongly recommended – to use a high mold with a diameter of 18 or 20 cm on average. Why not use a larger mold? The larger the mold, the flatter the flan will be. It won’t be bad or a failure, far from it, it will just be less pretty. What we like about the pastry flan is also this beautiful thickness of cream.
The size is obvious, but which mold to choose? A tart ring, a springform pan, a springform pan?
First, you have to understand the appearance of the cake. The flan consists of a base and a rim of dark pastry, and a creamy mixture in the center. Even if the flan is cooked in the end, it is out of the question – or even strictly forbidden! – to turn your flan over to unmold it. So we immediately forget about the springform pan (unless you cut the flan into the mold obviously).
The springform mold is very good for avoiding unmolding disasters, and it is also recommended when preparing a cheesecake.
But the must of the must remains the pastry ring – always of rather small diameter, and with high edges obviously (4 cm minimum) – to guarantee good cooking of the pastry base, which always cooks better if it is in direct contact with the baking sheet.
Good to know, to reproduce the magnificent flan of Quentin Lechat, the new pastry chef at the Royal Monceau in Paris, you must use a circle 12 cm in diameter and 6 cm in height.
Shaping the dough
Once our dough has rested, place it on a floured work surface and roll it out with a rolling pin, also floured. We must obtain a uniform thickness of approximately 3 mm.
Then for sinking, two techniques are possible.
For the first, we place the dough directly on the buttered circle and placed on a baking sheet, and we darken the bottom and the perimeter at once. The difficulty being the height of the circle which can make the exercise delicate.
The other, more professional technique consists of using the circle as a template to “cut” the bottom of the dough directly, before adding one or more strips of dough the height of the mold (4 cm for example) to form the perimeter flan. This way there is no excess dough and the bottom “corners” are perfect.
When the sinking is finished, don’t think we’re going to stop there, you need to keep the mold in a cool place – refrigerator or freezer – to give the dough time to harden. At least 30 minutes, but if you can push it up to 2 hours that’s better.
The custard has no use for this perlimpinpin powder
Step n°2: the creamy mixture
The choice of milk
To prepare a flan, you need milk, that goes without saying, but you can also replace 1/4 of the milk with whipping cream which will add a good dose of creaminess to the whole thing. Some use thick crème fraîche with 35% fat such as crème fraîche from Isigny. The important thing is to remember that we want creaminess and deliciousness, so it is better to use whole milk and non-fat whipping cream. We reserve fat-free delicacies such as skimmed milk for other preparations.
As for eggs, it all depends on the expected result. If you integrate blanks into your device, it will be more compact; you can also make a mix between whole eggs and egg yolks; or simply use only egg yolks. All you need to do is make homemade financiers or macaroons with the remaining whites.
Quentin Lechat, for his part, only uses egg yolks, four for a circle 12 cm in diameter. A word to the wise!
What is flan powder or cream powder?
In stores, there is a product called “flan powder”, and one might believe that without it, it is impossible to make a flan! It is simply a mixture based on corn starch, coloring, and flavoring, very often used in professional kitchens. However, the flan has no use for this perlimpinpin powder and the purists that we are will not even glance at it, and will prefer to move towards much less artificial and useless ingredients, it goes without saying, but it gets better by writing it!
For a flan, no need to use special sugars, simple white sugar does the trick. Let’s not forget that it is the vanilla that will give all its flavor to the custard, and it should not be masked with other flavors.
Pod, extract, powder… Many products exist to flavor a vanilla flan. Being always purists, we recommend the whole vanilla pod, very fleshy, which will pleasantly perfume the appliance.
The ingredients of the flan maker
80 cl of whole milk
120 g of sugar
2 vanilla pods
5 egg yolks or 4 eggs
80 g of cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
20 cl of liquid whipping cream
In a saucepan, bring the milk to the boil with half the sugar, the vanilla seeds, and the split vanilla pods, immediately remove from the heat.
Mix the yolks quickly with the remaining sugar, cornstarch, and salt, without allowing the mixture to whiten.
Add the boiling milk to the previous mixture, stirring constantly.
Cook everything over medium heat, whisking quickly. As soon as the cream thickens, remove the pan from the heat.
Add the cream and mix.
Cover and let the cream cool partially or completely.
Variant : like Quentin Lechat, you can incorporate semi-salted butter into your pastry cream, at the same time as the cream, or imitate the world champion pastry chef, Christophe Michalak, by adding a dash of orange blossom.
Step 3: assembly
The dough is cold, the cream too, we can move on to assembly. So far nothing too bad since you just have to pour your cream into your mold. Except… Except that you still have to wait before putting it in the oven – it’s a long time, we know – and put your raw flan back in the fridge for 4 to 12 hours. This is certainly optional, but highly recommended. Afterwards, if you prefer to cross off-road, we will not take any responsibility!
Step n°4: cooking
Finally ! It’s time to cook, except that each pastry chef/trainer has their own cooking style. According to the official CAP patisserie recipe, it takes 1 hour at 190°C to obtain the correct cooking and coloring. At Quentin Lechat, it takes 45 minutes of cooking at 165°C.
In any case, place the flan instead at the bottom of the oven for cooking.
Once cooked, do not try to remove the circle immediately, straight out of the oven. You must let the flan cool for 3 hours before unmolding. We know that you are joking in your corner, but yes, you read correctly, you still have to wait before tasting your delight.
Of course, as soon as the cake is warm, you can refrigerate it to speed up the process a little.
Finally, do not enjoy your flan too cold, but let it come to room temperature to enjoy its incomparable creaminess.
There you go, you know enough – and certainly too much – to prepare the best pastry flan in France!
>> Also read: Diplomat cream is all good
Yann Couvreur’s ultra-creamy flan.
© Marjolaine Daguerre