During college, I spent time southeast of Mexico City in the Spanish colonial city Puebla. In the main plaza Zocalo, I frequently visited a cafe that served the most delicious vanilla flan. Sometimes I ate it twice a day! Until last night, when my dear friend Gigi brought her grandmother’s recipe for my favorite dessert, I thought I would never enjoy flan as much as I did the year I learned to speak Spanish fluently. The divine combination of the smell of not quite burnt caramel and rich Mexican vanilla makes traditional French crème brûlée seem a bit boring.

Nota bene: The flan tastes even better on the second day, once the caramel has had a chance to completely dissolve into the flan. A delicious make ahead dessert! This flan may also be made in 3 inch ramekins for individual servings. Simply use a knife to dislodge the sides of individual flans and turn onto a dessert plate.

Flan de la Abuela


  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup water

  • 1 (14-ounce) can condensed milk

  • 4 large eggs

  • 2 cans whole milk (use the condensed milk can to measure whole milk)

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. To make caramel, mix sugar and water in a small non-stick pan. Mix well. Bring to a boil and cook past the softball stage until it becomes a dark amber color and smells strongly of caramel—about 8 minutes. No need to stir, simply swirl the pan around from time to time.

3. When caramel is ready, pour into a rectangular oven proof container and swirl caramel around to coat the bottom and halfway up the sides.

4. Let the caramel cool at room temperature. No worries if the caramel cracks as it cools.

5. To make flan, beat the eggs in a large bowl and then add the condensed milk, the whole milk and the vanilla. Mix until smooth, but not until bubbly.

6. Pour mixture over the cooled caramel. Place the flan in a larger pan and add water to the larger pan to make a Bain Marie. The water should be half way up the flan container.

7. Bake in the oven until it is lightly golden on top—usually small brown spots appear but the top does not usually golden uniformly. Once some spots look a little poufy, it is time to take the flan out of the oven.

8. Let cool at room temperature until you can handle the pan without gloves, then refrigerate until serving time.

9. Cut and serve in square pieces and use a spoon for ladling some of the caramel onto the plate.

Serves 8