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RECIPE: Pumpkin Flan & The Difference Between Caramel Custard & Creme Caramel

October 3rd is National Caramel Custard Day.

Caramel custard is one of the numerous different types of custard. Crème caramel, also called flan, is another.

Because there is no official National Flan Day (Walmart declared one in 2012 as a product promotion), and because it’s pumpkin season, we’re sharing a Pumpkin Flan recipe from Seviche restaurant in Kentucky.

But first, let’s end the confusion between caramel custard and crème caramel/flan.

It’s easy to confuse the two by name (but not by sight—details follow). In fact, when we looked at caramel custard recipes and images online, almost all of them were crème caramel/flan.

Both use caramelized sugar (white sugar heated until it becomes a light brown liquid), but in different ways. Here’s how to distinguish them:

  • Caramel custard, a British recipe, mixes caramelized sugar into the custard prior to baking. It is typically baked in ramekins. The top is smooth, like conventional baked custard, but a deep tan color from the caramelized sugar (photo #3).
  • Crème caramel or flan, known as flan in Spanish (photos #1 and #2), has a distinctive layer of moist caramelized sugar on top. This is made by adding the caramelized sugar to the bottom of the mold. When the flan is unmolded, upside-down, there’s a brown layer of caramel top that runs down the sides, creating a sauce-like effect.
  • A quick visual: If it doesn’t have a separate, runny top layer, it isn’t crème caramel/flan. If it does have the runny top, it is flan/crème caramel.
  • While both are most often made in individual portions, they can also be made in a multi-portion size (photo #4).
  • Pastry flan: In the pastry world, flan is a term used for a sweet or savory multiportion tart filled with some kind of custard. Both are typically made in a fluted tart or flan ring, a short pan with a removable bottom.
    > With a sweet flan, the tart is filled with pastry cream (crème pâtissière, a type of custard) and topped with fruit.

    > Quiche is the best known of the savory tarts. Another term for spinach quiche is spinach flan; leek and bacon quiche is leek and bacon flan, etc.

    This recipe uses a particular brand of pumpkin-infused syrup. If you can’t find it locally and don’t want to order it online, you should be able to find others, such as Monin and Torani. It’s the same syrup used to make pumpkin spice lattes.

    If you don’t know the details, here’s the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk.

    Ingredients For 10 Four-Once Servings

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (14 ounces) evaporated milk
  • 1 can (14 ounces) condensed milk
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces Pumpkin Reál Infused Syrup (available at local Liquor Barn locations)
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée

    1. MIX the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil for a few minutes until the sugar caramelizes.

    2. POUR the caramelized sugar into aluminum molds; you can use any shape: oval, round or square. Spread the caramel on the bottom of the molds. Set aside at room temperature until hardened.

    3. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Mix well the evaporated milk, condensed milk, egg yolks, pumpkin and vanilla by hand or blender. Pour through a fine mesh sieve. Gently pour the mixture on top of the caramel in the aluminum molds.

      Pumpkin Flan

    [1] Pumpkin flan at Seviche restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky (recipe below).

    [2] Classic flan at Fogo de Chão.

    Caramel Custard
    [3] Caramel custard has a smooth, dry top: no runny caramelized sugar. That sugar is in the mix—it’s what gives the custard its brown color, instead of conventional, pale yellow, baked custard. Here’s the recipe from Bon Appetit.

    Caramel Custard
    [4] A multiportion caramel custard made in a removable-bottom pan. Here’s the recipe from Hummingbird High.

    4. FILL the molds to about 1 to 1-1/4 inch of the top. Cover the molds individually with aluminum foil. Before baking the flan, place the molds on a larger baking pan and add hot water to this pan until half way up the molds. Bake for about 45 minutes. Let cool then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

    5. TO SERVE: Run a thin knife around the edges of the mold to loosen the flan. Place a plate on top of the mold and quickly turn upside down to position the golden brown caramel on top.



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