Banh flan (Vietnamese creme caramel) is a smooth and soft custard covered in a dark amber caramel. The caramel is slightly bitter which helps cut through the sweetness of the custard to give you a rich but balanced dish. This banh flan was initially introduced to Vietnam by the French and over the years has become very much a part of Vietnamese cuisine.
Banh Flan (Vietnamese Creme Caramel)
This recipe for banh flan is quite easy. Basically you need to make some caramel, mix together the custard ingredients, then put in moulds and bake. However, there are a number of factors that can cause things to go wrong. We will guide you through the recipe in detail and give you tips on how to avoid the pitfalls.
Making the Caramel
Making caramel is an easy exercise as long as you watch it like a hawk! Here are a few tips to avoid burning your caramel:
- As soon as the caramel starts to colour take it off the heat. Leave it for 30 seconds and allow the residual heat to caramelise the sugar further. If it is not at the desired colour, then put it back on the heat for 10 seconds at a time.
- Use an ice bath to stop the caramel cooking further. As soon as the caramel is the right colour, put the bottom of the saucepan into the ice bath to cool. Be careful not to splash the ice bath water into the caramel.
- Don’t walk away. Just stand next to it until it is done and you won’t fail.
The Moulds Matter
Moulds matter! Why? Because the size of the moulds will affect the cook time and how it looks on the plate.
The smaller the mould the less cook time it will need. Smaller moulds are also more prone to bubbles and over cooking.
Generally, you want a higher ramekin of around 5 cm / 2 in deep. This is because the flan tends to sink a little under its own weight once it is turned out onto a plate. So if you a using a shallow ramekin, the flan may look very flat and unappealing.
My moulds fit roughly 150 ml of liquid. This recipe creates roughly 900ml of flan, so I get roughly six serves. You should measure out your final mixture and the size of your ramekins to ensure you end up with equal-sized serves.
Remember: It is better to have moulds that are filled to the top than trying to spread the flan mixture evenly over too many moulds.
Making the Banh Flan Custard
Heat the milk to 70 C to fully dissolve the sugar. Use a candy thermometer to make sure it comes to the right temperature.
Once the milk has reached 70 C take it off the heat and strain in the beaten eggs. Stir the mixture until the eggs are fully incorporated.
Do not let the milk boil as it may scramble the eggs.
Preparing the Banh Flan for the Oven
Before pouring the mixture into the moulds, you first must strain it to catch any scrambled egg or other solids that may have formed.
Fill each mould to near capacity then cover each one with aluminium foil. The foil will prevent the the surface of the flan from drying out and forming a hard skin. Use a skewer to poke holes in the foil to allow the steam to escape. This will prevent the mixture from getting too hot and boiling.
Preparing the Bain Marie (Water Bath)
A bain marie helps to heat food gently and to maintain a certain temperature over a longer period of time.
To make your bain marie more effective:
- Use a tea towel to control the temperature better.
- Fill your bain marie to half way up the moulds.
- Use medium-hot water from the tap, rather than boiling water from a kettle. This is to avoid overcooking the flans.
Let them Cool and Chill in the Fridge
Once the banh flan has finished cooking, remove the aluminium foil to avoid condensation building up. This will also release any eggy smell. Let the banh flan sit uncovered at room temperature for 20 minutes. Then, cover with cling wrap and leave to chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours but preferably 1 to 2 days.
Unmoulding the flans is pretty easy. Run a knife around the edges of the mould, making sure the knife touches the bottom of the mould the whole way. Then, put a small plate over the mould and turn it upside down. Place a tea towel on the kitchen bench, and tap the plate and mould together on the tea towel until the flan falls out.
Banh Flan Troubleshooting
Even though the recipe is very simple, creme caramel can be difficult as there are many factors that affect the end result. Ovens in particular can be very finicky. The best thing is to do a test run of a recipe, note what the issues are, then tweak. Here are some common issues and what to do about it:
Skin Forming on the Surface
If you have ever had a flan with a hard skin, you will know it isn’t very pleasant. To stop this from happening you will need to cover each individual flan with aluminium foil. Make sure to poke holes in the aluminium foil to avoid trapping the steam inside and boiling the flan.
Bubbles in the Custard
Bubbles are caused by overheating the flan. The flan should be cooked ‘low and slow’ but when it is too hot, it is likely the mixture is boiling. This forms gas aka air bubbles and they get trapped as the flan solidifies. So, here are some of the things to do / consider to avoid this outcome:
- All ovens are different. Your thermostat (heat controlling mechanism in your oven) may be a little off. Try reducing your oven temperature with your next batch.
- Make sure to always poke holes through the aluminium foil. For reasons stated above.
- Use medium-hot water from the tap for the bain marie, rather than boiling water from the kettle. The one time I used boiling water from the kettle, the flans formed bubbles on the sides. So now, I only ever use medium-hot water from the tap.
Some people believe over whisking the eggs or milk are the cause of bubbles in your flan. However, after a number of attempts I do not believe this to be the case.
The Banh Flan Did Not Cook Properly
If your banh flan did not cook, then it is probably due to the following:
- Your moulds are too large for the time specified in the recipe. Larger moulds will require more cooking time for the flan to set. My moulds are roughly 150 ml so anything bigger than that will require a little more time to cook. So, adjust the timer according to your moulds.
- Oven temperature is too low. You may find your oven temperature is a little off, or it may heat unevenly. If this is the case, use an oven thermometer to adjust the temperature or move your moulds around for a more even cook.
The Caramel is Stuck to the Mould!
This was an issue for me at my first few attempts. I have a few things for you to consider.
- Leaving the flans in the fridge for 1 or more days tends to give the caramel ample time to liquefy. Every time I eat the flans within a day, there is always hard caramel stuck at the bottom of the mould. But as time goes on, the caramel melts slowly giving you much more sauce!
- Adding an acid. Many recipes will tell you to add lemon juice to help prevent the sugar from crystalizing. Not sure if this actually works but I add it in anyway.
- Loosen up the caramel and make it less viscous by adding water. My mum swears by this method. To do this, add 1 tbsp of water once the caramel is at the desired colour and cover the pot with a lid. Once the caramel stops bubbling, use a spoon to stir it through. Note: this will dilute you caramel slightly so it may not be as sweet / flavourful.
Firmness of the Banh Flan
I’ve written this recipe using whole eggs because I like to keep it simple. That, AAANNND every time I save egg whites and put them in the fridge, they always get thrown out a week later. So I don’t bother!
Egg whites are what give the flan firmness. If you’ve made this recipe and prefer something a little softer, then drop out the egg whites on 1-2 eggs. So for example where this recipe calls for five whole eggs, replace with 3-4 whole eggs and 1-2 egg yolks.
You may also need to reduce the cooking time by a few minutes.
Creme caramel is a very simple-tasting dessert, having really only two elements – the soft sweet custard, and the golden, slightly bitter caramel. It tastes fantastic the way it is.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t jazz it up. If you are looking for something different, here are some popular variations:
- Adding extra flavour to the custard, like incorporating Tia Maria (liqueur) or espresso (coffee).
- Adding extra toppings, like fresh fruit or edible gold leaf.
Other Dessert Recipes You Might Enjoy
- All Seasons Mango Pudding
- Pressure Cooker Sweet Red Bean Soup (Hong Dou Tang)
- Mango Sticky Rice (Quick Version)
- Vietnamese Rainbow Coconut Dessert (Che Suong Sa Hat Luu)
- Vietnamese Banana and Coconut Pudding – Che Chuoi
- Vietnamese Snowballs – Banh Bao Chi
Scruff and Steph
Banh Flan (Vietnamese Creme Caramel)
- small saucepan
- deep baking tray
- moulds (roughly 150 ml each)
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 5 eggs
- 600 ml full-cream milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 pinch salt
- In a small saucepan heat the caramel ingredients over medium heat. Meanwhile, prepare a large bowl of iced water.
- Once the caramel has turned amber (roughly 3-5 minutes), take the saucepan off the heat and place into the bowl of iced water for 10 seconds. Be careful not to splash any icebath water into the caramel.
- Pour or spoon the caramel into the moulds and leave to harden.
- Whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
- Put the milk, sugar, vanilla and salt into a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Stir until combined and all the sugar has dissolved, then keep heating until the mixture reaches 70 C / 158 F.
- Preheat the oven to 150C / 300 F.
- Take the milk mixture off the heat and add the eggs slowly through a strainer. Mix until completely incorporated.
- Strain the mixture again, then pour into the moulds. Place a tea towel on your workbench and tap the moulds onto the towel a few times to remove any air bubbles. Cover in aluminium foil, and poke a few holes through the foil on each ramekin.
- In a baking tray, lay down a tea towel. Put the moulds into the baking tray and fill the tray half way up the moulds with medium-hot water from the tap. Do not use boiling water!
- Bake the flan for 35 minutes.
- Take the moulds out of the baking tray and let them cool for 10 minutes at room temperature. Carefully remove the aluminium foil off and leave until cool enough to be handled.
- Cover each mould with cling wrap and let it set in the fridge for at least four hours (though preferably at least 1 day) (Note 1).
- Once ready to serve, run a knife around the edges to unmould the flan, and turn it upside down on a plate. The caramel will spill over the custard.
- The creme caramel will be chilled and set after four hours, however the caramel may not have fully liquefied at this point. Leaving for 1 – 2 days will improve your chances of getting more liquid caramel.