In one of the tastiest tussles to date, this week le petit creme brulee and feisty flan are coming head to head, or rather, plate to plate, to see who reigns supreme when it comes to desserts of cream.
Maybe you assumed the two were one in the same. Maybe you scoff at the idea that they could even be considered comparable. Nevertheless, we’re diving straight into the facts to determine who’s the king of custard.
Texture and Consistency
The body of a typical flan is eggy and gelatinous, with plenty of jiggle-room. It’s essentially baked custard—eggs, gelatin, vanilla, and cream or milk.
Nuances will vary subtly or not so subtly depending on if you’re enjoying, say, a Spanish flan versus a Mexican one. For instance, your flan will most likely be drenched in a sweet milky-caramel syrup if it’s Latin-style, like dulce de leche. Or, it might be presented with a layer of burnt or caramelized sugar on the bottom—almost like an upside-down creme brulee (almost)—if it’s European.
Cream, eggs, and vanilla extract are all whisked up and boiled into a pudding-like custard base for the creme brulee. After the base has been refrigerated and is nice and chilly, sugar is sprinkled on top and browned with a torch to create a delicate layer of caramelized goodness (creme brulee translates to “burnt cream”).
Where You’ll Find It
Flan’s roots trace way back to Europe (the ancient Romans considered it a “health food”). Today the dish is most popular among Latin American countries, as well as the Philippines and the US—which explains why you can find it in both independent/specialty and chain restaurants (El Torito, anyone?).
Creme brulee also traces to Europe, the name itself is French. Now, the brulee is a household name, but more often in the houses where chefs or eager-to-learn foodies live. It’s not likely you’ll come across a creme brulee labeled for individual sale per se, but there have been creme brulee findings at dessert bars of various buffets (like Vegas, baby).
What’s Working For You
The flan and the creme brulee are not for the amatuer chef. Both require patience, dedication, expertise, and a lot of your time. A decent creme brulee might take you about three to four hours from start to finish, whereas a flan might set you back six.
It’s probable you won’t be able to master either of them on the first try, and that’s the beauty of it all. If you want it, you need to work for it. Follow your dreams. Follow your creams.
What’s Working Against You
Though both desserts are undeniably complex in more ways than one, their essence can still be too easily captured, reformulated, and ultimately, cheapened for the masses. To put things into perspective: Starbucks has already tapped into both desserts to create the Creme Brulee Latte and Frappuccino, and the Caramel Flan Latte and Frappuccino, within the last few years.
Though, it’s also worth mentioning that one is more likely to come across mass-produced flan than dollar-creme brulee.
For this round, we’re calling creme brulee the custard champ. It’s complex, refined, and exquisite—not that the flan isn’t, but did we mention you need a torch to complete the creme brulee? This is definitely the creme of the crop.