Give Now  »

wfiu logo
WFIU Public Radio

wtiu logo
WTIU Public Television

Choose which station to support!

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

Dare To Go Dark With Caramel Sauce For Flan

Chef Seth Elgar's recipe for custard is simple -- eggs, half-and-half, sugar, fresh vanilla bean and a pinch of sea salt. It's the caramel sauce that transforms the custard into the best flan you've ever had.

Caramel Pro

"I’m not the biggest fan of overly-sweet things," says Elgar. "So, when I make caramel I go for dark." And he's not joking. The finished sauce is so dark it looks like chocolate and it smells slightly bitter.

He starts with two ingredients -- sugar and water. He agitates the pan as the sugar starts to brown. (Do not stir, he says! Any foreign material in caramel will encourage the sugar to revert to a granular state.) Once the caramel reaches a deep, dark color, pour it into ceramic cups (up to one quarter-inch). It will harden, and that's when you pour the custard over top. Bake the cups in a water bath, covered in parchment foil.

As the custard cools over the next several days, the sugar in the bottom of the cups will pull liquid from the custard to make a gooey, rich caramel sauce.

The Reveal

Elgar pulls a finished cup of flan from the refrigerator at No Coast Reserve. Looking at the plain, light yellow custard, it's easy to forget the surprise that's waiting at the bottom.

He uses a paring knife to separate the custard from the edges. He turns it upside down on the plate, giving it a good tap tap tap. The custard releases and is quickly followed by a rush of oozing dark amber caramel.

Now we have flan!

Elgar says the key to this dessert is daring to push the caramel to dark. "If not, you end up with a really weak caramel sauce that you come to regret."



  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 fresh bean vanilla, split and scraped, or 2 teaspoon of real vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place the first cup of sugar, water and salt in a small sauce pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until a medium brown caramel is achieved. (DO NOT stir caramel, as foreign material will harden your caramel.) Pour the caramel into the custard cups and let it harden.
  3. Put your vanilla bean and scraped interior (or extract), salt and milk in another pot and bring up to a simmer. Turn off heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes at room temperature. Remove the vanilla bean chunks (if used) and add the half and half to the pot. Bring the mixture back up to a simmer.
  4. Whisk the sugar and the eggs together until homogenous and pale. Place a damp towel under your egg mixing bowl. While whisking rapidly, slowly pour the hot dairy mix into the eggs, whisk until smooth.
  5. Pour custard mix over hardened caramel and place the flan(s) into a baking pan. Using a pitcher, or measuring cup with a pour spout, pour hot water into the pan until it comes half way up the custard cups. Transfer the baking pan to the oven, making sure to not splash water into the custard. Cover in parchment foil to trap the steam.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, gently rotate the pan 180 degrees, and then cook for another 15 minutes. (This may take an additional 5+ minutes.) You'll know the custards are done when they jiggle uniformly (as in, the centers aren't looser than the exterior ring). Remove custards from the water bath, cool to room temp and refrigerate until service.
  7. To serve, run a paring knife around the exterior of the custard and invert onto your service plate/platter. Pour the sauce out of the bottom of the dish onto the custard top.

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About Earth Eats

Harvest Public Media