Crème caramel

Crème caramel

Crème caramel, flan, or caramel custard is a rich 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 has spread across Europe and the world. Both 'crème caramel' and 'flan' are French names, but have 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 France, 'flan' usually means a custard tart, often with a fruit topping. In Europe and many Commonwealth countries, the dish is generally known as crème caramel.

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.


Crème caramel is a variant of plain custard (crème) where some sugar syrup, cooked to caramel stage, is poured into the mold before adding the custard base. 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 America 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".

Regional Varieties

Packaged crème caramel is ubiquitous in Japanese convenience stores under the name , or "custard pudding". Often, an entire shelf in a Lawson or 7-Eleven is dedicated to over a dozen brands and varieties. In Argentina, Uruguay and some neighbouring countries, crème caramel is usually eaten with dulce de leche. Crème caramel is also common in Vietnam. In the Philippines it is served as Leche Flan, a heavier version of the Spanish flan, and is a staple in all celebratory feasts.


The Modern English word 'flan' and the earlier 'flawn' come 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 Modern Dutch word fla/flade 'pancake' has the same origin.

See also

  • Crème brûlée, a dessert consisting of a rich custard base topped with a layer of hard caramel.
  • The Spanish version of the crème brûlée is called crema catalana. It is also called Crema de Sant Josep, or St. Joseph’s cream, traditionally prepared on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, the Spanish equivalent of Father’s Day in the USA.


  • Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, 1999. ISBN 0-19-211579-0.


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