A popular dish throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as other regions influenced by Spanish cuisine, flan is the ultimate simple but showy dessert. The creamy custard hides a layer of rich caramel that, when flipped out of the pan, reveals itself to be an amber sauce that spreads to the edges of whatever party platter you’ve transferred it to. Instant applause.
Some versions have a tendency to collapse on the serving plate. This homemade flan recipe incorporates a bit of cream cheese, which adds tangy flavor and imparts just enough structure to make unmolding a breeze. It also uses a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract—if you’re ever going to splurge, a custard dessert is the time to do it. Custards bake to a lower internal temperature than cakes and cookies, which means all the nuances present in those tiny vanilla seeds make a difference. Finally, the caramel sauce is cooked to a dark amber—a shade darker than usual. The slightly bitter tinge contrasts beautifully with the eggy custard mixture.
This flan gets baked in a loaf pan instead of the more common pie plate or cake pan. This does two things: The higher sides mean that the water bath it’s baked in is less likely to slosh into the tin, and it also unmolds easily into an attractive loaf that can be cut into neat slices. Look for the top of the flan to jiggle slightly when you (gently) jostle the baking pan.