Bánh Flan (Vietnamese Flan Creme Caramel)

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Banh Flan is a classic Vietnamese dessert featuring a silky, smooth custard with a layer of caramel on top. With just five simple ingredients, this recipe can be perfected by following my success tips for achieving the smoothest, creamiest dessert ever!

Banh flan on a white plate.

The caramel is infused with pure vanilla and espresso, and the custard is luxuriously silky, practically melting on the tongue. The technique isn’t too hard, but it does take concentration and good timing to work with the sugar syrup before it hardens. The results are well worth the effort!

This is seriously the BEST banh flan recipe from my mom. It’s a family recipe that has been cherished and perfected over generations, and every time I make it, it gets devoured quickly. It’s a dessert that is perfect for any occasion, from family dinners to holiday celebrations.

If you’re looking for more Vietnamese desserts, try this Vietnamese fruit cocktail, Che Thai, or this three-layer dessert, Che Ba Mau.

What is Vietnamese Flan?

Banh flan is a type of dessert that originated in France but has become popular in many other countries, including Vietnam. It is also known as caramel custard or crème caramel.

Banh flan typically consists of a custard made from eggs, milk, sugar (or sweetened condensed milk), and vanilla extract. The custard is baked in a water bath until set and then chilled until firm. The dessert is then inverted onto a plate and served with caramel sauce drizzled over the top. Sometimes, crushed ice is placed on top to make kem flan, aka “flan ice cream.”

In Vietnam, banh flan is a common dessert that is often served on special occasions, such as family parties, weddings, and birthdays. It is a sweet and creamy treat that is loved by kids and adults.

What Does it Taste Like?

Slice of banh flan with spoon scooping it.

Banh flan is a Vietnamese dessert similar to crème caramel or flan. It is made from a custard-like mixture of eggs, milk, and sugar baked and then chilled. When you bite into it, a good flan should wiggle and jiggle on the spoon while still being silky smooth, velvety, and creamy.

The flavor of banh flan is primarily sweet, but it also has a subtle richness from the eggs and milk used in the custard. The caramelized sugar on the bottom of the dish adds a slight bitterness and depth of flavor that complements the sweetness of the custard.

Kitchen Equipment

  • fine mesh sieve
  • 8 individual ramekins, two 4-cup Pyrex bowls, or an 8-inch round baking dish
  • baking tray (for the water bath)

Ingredients and Substitutions

Ingredients needed for banh flan: eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla extract.
  • Milk: Use 2% or whole milk. You can also substitute part heavy cream if you’d like to make it creamier. To make this dairy-free, substitute milk with coconut milk, lactose-free milk, or any other milk alternative.
  • Eggs: You’ll need 3 whole eggs and 3 yolks (6 in total). These give the dessert that classic custard flavor and texture. They hold everything together. Not sure what to do with the extra egg whites? This egg white wraps recipe is perfect for using it up, and you can fill it with just about anything.
  • Vanilla extract: I use top-quality pure vanilla extract to flavor the custard, but you can also use vanilla bean paste.
  • Sugar: Sugar is used to sweeten the caramel topping sauce and flan custard. Alternatively, you can use condensed milk.
  • Instant Coffee or Espresso (Optional): This is used to flavor the caramel sauce, adding bitterness to balance out the sweetness and creaminess of the custard.

Please scroll ⬇️ to the recipe card to see the full ingredient amounts and instructions.

Banh Flan Recipe: Step By Step

  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F. Bring water to a boil to use as a water bath. (Optional: If you are using instant coffee to flavor the caramel sauce, mix together the coffee and water in a small bowl.)
  2. Make the caramel syrup. In a small, heavy frying pan, pour in sugar and spread it evenly around the pan. Heat the sugar over medium-low heat until it begins to liquefy. Shake the pan slightly, but do not stir, until the sugar has melted, about 10 minutes. Stir the sugar as it begins to bubble and take on color. If using coffee, stir it in now.
  3. Let it cook to an amber color. When the sugar becomes amber, turn off the heat and quickly pour the caramel into the bottom of an 8-cup (or two 4-cup) baking dish or 8 individual ramekins. Carefully tilt in a circular motion to coat the entire surface of the baking dish.
Process of making the caramel sugar. Heat sugar on pan and wait for it to melt and turn amber. Pour onto baking dish.
  1. Make the custard. Add milk and sugar to a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Do not let the milk boil or bubble; keep it warm enough to dissolve all the sugar (about 130-140°F). Let it cool for about 5 minutes.
  2. Temper eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, and vanilla extract together. Slowly pour 1 cup of milk in, mix, and then continue pouring in the rest. Gently mix until well combined.
Process of making the custard. Heat milk and dissolve the sugar. Whisk eggs and add milk slowly to the eggs.
  1. Pour custard through a sieve over the caramel. To get rid of air bubbles, strain the flan mixture through a fine mesh sieve and pour it into the prepared baking dish or ramekins on top of the caramel layer.
Process of straining the custard with a mesh sieve and setting up the water bath.
  1. Steam the flan. Cover the baking dish or ramekins with aluminum foil and poke a few holes through the foil.
  • Oven method: Put the baking dish or ramekins onto a baking tray and fill the tray halfway with boiling water. Bake for 50-70 minutes, or until the custard is set and a knife comes out clean; the cooking time will vary with the depth of the mold.
  • Instant Pot method: Fill the instant pot with 1 cup of cold water. Set the ramekins in (you may need to work in batches). Set the instant pot to [Pressure Cook/Manual] on high pressure for 12 minutes + Natural Release; cooking time will vary with the depth of the mold.
  1. Let it cool. Once it is done baking, set it aside to cool completely. Then, take the foil off and wrap it with plastic wrap. Let it set in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
  2. Invert onto serving dish. Once chilled, run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins or baking dish, then place a large-rimmed serving plate over the pan. While holding the plate in place, flip the flan to the opposite side and let it fall onto the plate. If the caramel on the bottom of the pan has hardened, place it in a pan of hot water to loosen.
Process of inverting the flan onto a plate. Trace knife around the edge of the dish. Place serving dish on top and flip.

Slice and serve.

Slice of flan on a plate with spoon drizzling caramel on top.

Tips for Success

Watch the sugar closely: Caramel goes from great to burnt in a matter of seconds.
Pour the caramel into the molds quickly: The caramel will harden within a few minutes. Have the molds prepped and ready so that you can quickly pour the caramel in and swirl it around to cover the bottom of the molds.
Taste test the milk and sugar mixture: Pour the sugar in little by little and taste test the mixture to see if it is to your desired sweetness.
Temper the eggs: Add 1/2 cup of warm milk at a time to the eggs. (Pouring too much all at once might scramble the eggs.) Tempering the eggs will help make the flan creamy, smooth, and velvety.
Do not overmix: This will cause air bubbles in the flan.
Strain the flan mixture through a fine mesh sieve. This removes air bubbles and clumps, making the flan silky smooth.
Check for doneness with a toothpick or thin knife: Insert a toothpick or a thin knife into the center of the flan. The flan is done if it comes out mostly clean or with a few small, cooked custard bits attached. However, if the toothpick comes out wet and covered in liquid custard, it needs more baking time.

Troubleshooting

Why does my flan have bubbles?

If your flan has bubbles on the surface, there are a few possible reasons for this:

Mixing: Overmixing the custard can introduce air into the mixture, leading to bubbles. When whisking the ingredients together, be sure to mix gently and avoid vigorous stirring.

Straining: If the custard mixture is not strained before pouring it into the ramekins, small lumps or air bubbles from the eggs can contribute to bubbles on the surface of the flan. Straining the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve can help remove any impurities and ensure a smoother texture.

Water Bath: Bubbles can also form during baking if the water bath is not set up properly. Use boiling water for the water bath. When placing the ramekins in the water bath, ensure that the water level reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. If the water level is too high, it can cause the custard to bubble and rise unevenly.

Oven Temperature: High oven temperatures can cause the custard to puff up and develop bubbles on the surface. Ensure that the oven temperature is set to the recommended level in the recipe, and avoid baking at a higher temperature.

Resting Time: Bubbles can sometimes develop during the cooling process if the flan is not given enough time to settle and release the trapped air. After removing the flan from the oven, allow it to cool to room temperature before refrigerating it. Once chilled, the custard should have a smoother appearance.

How can I tell if the flan is ready?

To determine if your flan is ready, you can perform a few simple tests:

Jiggle Test: Gently shake the baking dish or ramekins holding the flan. The center of the flan should have a slight wobble, but the edges should be set. If the entire flan jiggles vigorously, it needs more baking time. It should have a soft and delicate movement rather than being liquid-like.

Toothpick Test: Insert a toothpick or a thin knife into the center of the flan, slightly off-center. The flan is done if it comes out mostly clean or with a few small, cooked custard bits attached. However, if the toothpick comes out wet and covered in liquid custard, it needs more baking time.

Visual Inspection: The edges of the flan should be set and slightly pulled away from the sides of the dish or ramekins. The top should be golden and appear firm, with a smooth surface. A slight browning around the edges is normal.

Remember that the flan will continue to set as it cools, so it’s okay if it appears slightly undercooked in the center during baking. Overcooking the flan can lead to a dense and rubbery texture. Once the flan is removed from the oven, allow it to cool at room temperature and then refrigerate it to set and chill fully.

How do I take flan out of the mold?

Handling the flan with care is important to maintain its shape and texture. Taking it out of the mold requires a delicate touch, but with patience and a gentle approach, you can successfully transfer the flan onto the serving plate with its caramel sauce intact. You got this!

First, allow the flan to cool completely before removing it from the mold. This helps the custard set and firm up.

Then, loosen the edges by taking a thin-bladed knife or an offset spatula and running it around the edge of the flan, gently separating it from the sides of the mold. This step helps to release any custard that might be sticking to the sides.

Take a flat serving plate or dish that is slightly larger than the diameter of the mold. It will serve as the plate onto which the flan will be inverted.

Place the serving plate upside down on top of the mold. Hold the plate and the mold firmly together. Then, carefully and quickly invert them together. The flan should be released from the mold and transferred onto the serving plate. Gravity will help the flan slide out, aided by the caramel sauce.

After inverting, gently tap the mold to release the flan. If needed, you can give it a few gentle shakes or taps. Lift the mold slowly and cautiously, allowing the flan to settle onto the plate. Be patient and avoid any sudden movements that could cause the flan to break.

Once the mold is removed, check if any parts of the flan are still stuck to it. If so, carefully lift the mold slightly and use a knife or spatula to release those areas. If there is any remaining caramel sauce in the mold, you can drizzle it over the top of the flan or around the edges for an attractive presentation.

Variations

While the classic recipe is delicious, there are many variations you can try to give this dessert a new twist. Here are some ideas:

  • Coffee Flan: Mix instant coffee granules into the custard mixture and pour a coffee sauce on top of the caramel layer for a delicious coffee-flavored dessert.
  • Coconut Flan: Add coconut milk and coconut flavoring to the custard mixture to give it a tropical flavor.
  • Matcha Flan: Infuse the custard with matcha powder to create a unique and trendy twist on the classic dessert.
  • Chocolate Flan: Mix cocoa powder into the custard mixture and pour a chocolate sauce on top of the caramel layer to make a decadent chocolate flan.
  • Pandan Flan: Add pandan extract to the custard mixture to create a unique green color and a subtle flavor that is popular in Southeast Asian desserts.
Slice of banh flan on a plate and whole flan in the background.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Vietnamese flan made of?


Vietnamese flan, also known as “Banh Flan,” is a popular custard dessert in Vietnam. The main ingredients are eggs, sugar, milk, and vanilla extract. Sometimes, sweetened condensed milk is used as a sugar substitute.

What size baking dish or ramekin should I use?

The baking dish or ramekin size you should use to make flan depends on your preference and the desired serving size. Here are some general guidelines:

Individual ramekins: If you prefer to make individual portions of flan, you can use ramekins that typically range in size from 4 to 6 ounces (118 to 177 ml) each. This allows for easy serving and portion control. The number of ramekins needed for this recipe will be about 8-10.

Larger baking dish: If you prefer to make a single large flan that can be sliced and served, you can use a larger baking dish. A common size for a larger flan is an 8-inch (20 cm) round baking dish or an 8×8-inch (20×20 cm) square baking dish. Alternatively, you can also use two 4-cup Pyrex bowls. You can adjust the size depending on the number of servings you want to make and the depth of the dish.

Remember that the cooking time may vary depending on the size and depth of the dish or ramekins. Thinner flans in smaller ramekins may cook faster, while larger flans in a larger dish may take longer to set.

How to make flan on the stove?

To cook it on the stove, fill the larger pan with hot water about halfway up the sides of the ramekins or baking dish. Cover the larger pan with a lid or aluminum foil. Heat the pan over low to medium-low heat. Allow the flan to cook gently in the water bath for about 40-45 minutes or until the custard is set. You can check for doneness using the jiggle or toothpick test mentioned earlier.

How to make flan in the Instant Pot?

Fill the instant pot with 1 cup of cold water. Set the ramekins or baking dish in (you may need to work in batches). Set the Instant Pot to [Pressure Cook/Manual] on high pressure for 12 minutes + Natural Release; cooking time will vary with the depth of the mold.

How did flan get to Vietnam?

Flan was believed to be introduced to Vietnam during French colonization, which began in the mid-19th century and lasted until the mid-20th century. The French brought with them their cuisine and culinary traditions, including desserts like flan.

During the colonial period, French cuisine was popularized among the Vietnamese upper class and the wealthy, who were exposed to French-style cooking through French restaurants and patisseries. Vietnamese cooks and chefs adapted some of the French dishes to local tastes and ingredients, resulting in new culinary creations that fused French and Vietnamese influences.

Flan, with its simple ingredients and easy preparation, quickly became a favorite dessert in Vietnam and has remained popular to this day. Vietnamese cooks and bakers have put their own spin on the dish, incorporating local flavors and ingredients like coconut milk or pandan leaves. Today, you can find Banh Flan served in many Vietnamese restaurants and bakeries and in homes throughout the country.

What is the difference between Mexican flan and Vietnamese flan?

Mexican flan and Vietnamese flan are both types of custard desserts, but they have a few key differences.

Ingredients: Mexican flan typically contains whole eggs, evaporated milk, and sweetened condensed milk, while Vietnamese flan typically contains only whole eggs and yolks, whole milk, and sugar. Mexican flan may also contain cinnamon, vanilla extract, or other flavorings.

Texture: Mexican flan is known for being denser and creamier, while Vietnamese flan is smoother and silkier.

Serving style: Mexican flan is usually served in a deep dish or ramekin, with the caramel sauce poured over the top. Vietnamese flan is often baked in individual ramekins, with the caramel sauce poured into the bottom of each ramekin.

Size: Mexican flan is often made in larger sizes, such as a 9-inch round dish, while Vietnamese flan is typically made in smaller individual sizes.

Flavor: While both desserts have a caramel layer on top, Mexican flan has a more pronounced caramel flavor due to the use of sweetened condensed milk, which is caramelized during the cooking process. Vietnamese flan has a milder caramel flavor due to using just sugar to make the caramel sauce.

Overall, Mexican and Vietnamese flan are delicious desserts with unique characteristics and flavor profiles.

How to Store Leftovers

Refrigerate

To store leftover banh flan after baking, let it cool to room temperature. Once it is cool, cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place the covered flan in the refrigerator. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.

Reheat

Banh flan is usually served chilled, but if the caramel on the bottom of the baking dish has hardened, place it in a hot water bath to loosen it for about 5-10 minutes. Then, invert it onto a serving dish.

Do Not Store at Room Temperature

It’s important to note that it should not be left at room temperature for too long, as it can spoil quickly due to its dairy and egg content. Also, the caramel syrup may become runny if left at room temperature for an extended period. So, the best solution is to store the flan in the refrigerator as soon as possible after it has cooled.

RECIPE

Slice of flan with spoon drizzling caramel on top.

Bánh Flan (Vietnamese Flan with Coffee Caramel)

Quynh Nguyen
This EASY banh flan (Vietnamese Flan Creme Caramel) recipe consists of a silky, smooth custard made from 4 simple ingredients.
5 from 60 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 12 minutes
Resting Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours 17 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine Asian, Asian Fusion, Vietnamese
Servings 8 servings
Calories 208 kcal

Equipment

  • 8 (6 oz) ramekins or
  • 2 (4 cup) Pyrex containers
  • fine mesh sieve
  • Mixing Bowl

Ingredients
  

For the Caramel Syrup

  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso coffee powder + 1 tablespoon water (optional)

For the Flan

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 6 large eggs (3 whole and 3 yolks)
  • ¾ cup sugar (or condensed milk)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • Preheat your oven to 300°F. Bring water to a boil to use as a water bath. (Optional: If you are using instant coffee to flavor the caramel sauce, mix together the coffee and water in a small bowl.)
  • Make the caramel syrup. In a small, heavy frying pan, pour in sugar and spread it evenly around the pan. Heat the sugar over medium-low heat until it begins to liquefy. Shake the pan slightly, but do not stir, until the sugar has melted, about 10 minutes. Stir the sugar as it begins to bubble and take on color. If using coffee, stir it in now.
  • Let it cook to an amber color. When the sugar becomes amber, turn off the heat and quickly pour the caramel into the bottom of an 8-cup (or two 4-cup) baking dish or 8 individual ramekins. Carefully tilt in a circular motion to coat the entire surface of the baking dish.
  • Make the custard. Add milk and sugar to a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Do not let the milk boil or bubble; keep it warm enough to dissolve all the sugar (about 130-140°F). Let it cool for about 5 minutes.
  • Temper Eggs. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, and vanilla extract together. Slowly mix in 1 cup of milk at a time. Gently mix until everything is well combined. (Note: Pouring too much all at once might scramble the eggs. Tempering the eggs will help make the flan creamy, smooth, and velvety.)
  • Pour custard through a sieve over the caramel. To get rid of air bubbles, strain the flan mixture through a fine mesh sieve and pour it into the prepared baking dish or ramekins on top of the caramel layer.
  • Steam the flan. Cover the baking dish or ramekins with aluminum foil and poke a few holes through the foil.
    Oven method: Put the baking dish or ramekins onto a baking tray and fill the tray halfway with boiling water. Bake for 50-70 minutes, or until the custard is set and a knife comes out clean; cooking time will vary with the depth of the mold.
    Instant Pot method: Fill the instant pot with 1 cup of cold water. Set the ramekins in (you may need to work in batches). Set the instant pot to [Pressure Cook/Manual] on high pressure for 12 minutes + Natural Release; cooking time will vary with the depth of the mold.
  • Let it cool. Once it is done baking, set it aside to cool completely. Then, take the foil off and wrap it with plastic wrap. Let it set in the refrigerator for at least 4-6 hours or overnight.
  • Invert onto serving dish. Once chilled, run a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins or baking dish, then place a large-rimmed serving plate over the pan. While holding the plate in place, flip the flan to the opposite side and let it fall onto the plate. If the caramel on the bottom of the pan has hardened, place it in a pan of hot water to loosen.
  • Slice and serve.

Notes

    • Watch the sugar closely: Caramel goes from great to burnt in a matter of seconds.
    • Pour the caramel into the molds quickly: The caramel will harden within a few minutes. Have the molds prepped and ready so that you can quickly pour the caramel in and swirl it around to cover the bottom of the molds.
    • Taste test the milk and sugar mixture: Pour the sugar in slowly and taste test the mixture to see if it is to your desired sweetness.
    • Temper the eggs: Add warm milk into the eggs 1/2 cup at a time. (Pouring too much all at once might scramble the eggs). Tempering the eggs will help make the flan creamy, smooth, and velvety.
    • Do not overmix: This will cause air bubbles in the flan.
    • Strain the flan mixture through a fine mesh sieve: This gets rid of air bubbles and egg clumps so that your flan is silky smooth.
    • Check for doneness with a toothpick or thin knife: Insert a toothpick or a thin knife into the center of the flan. The flan is done if it comes out mostly clean or with a few small, cooked custard bits attached. However, if the toothpick comes out wet and covered in liquid custard, it needs more baking time.

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Recipe Rating




23 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This is one of our favorite desserts! I will try the other variations next time. Your tips, FAQ’s, and detailed instructions were so helpful in achieving this perfect-looking dessert. Thanks!

  2. 5 stars
    This is sooo good. Very similar with the flan we have in the Philippines. Same cooking process, a little work, but definitely worth it. Thanks for sharing your culture and recipe. Great tips!

  3. 5 stars
    I recently tried out this banh flan recipe, and it was absolutely delightful! I was pleasantly surprised by its gentle sweetness, and the velvety, creamy texture left me craving for more. I highly recommend giving this recipe a go!

  4. 5 stars
    Wow such a delicious flan recipe . Amazing flavors and such a easy recipe to try and that caramel syrup with the coffee, brilliant

  5. 5 stars
    This was such a fun recipe! I’d never made flan before but it was a hit! Not as hard as I expected it to be.

  6. 5 stars
    I had never made flan at home before I tried your recipe but I’m so glad I did! This turned out so well – it was creamy, sweet and had the perfect texture!

  7. 5 stars
    This flan is a great dessert right after dinner! I love the caramel syrup with the coffee. Such a great idea!