Flan is one of the most wonderful egg-based custards ever. Very popular in Latin and Spanish cooking, this chocolate version has sweetened condensed milk which gives it a creamy, luxurious texture. An outstanding recipe with step-by-step video and images to guide you through the caramelizing and unmolding processes, so there's no excuse.
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Originally posted in September 2012, this post has been updated with images, text, and video to serve you better. I tweaked the original recipe so it's creamier and has more chocolate flavor!
This chocolate flan recipe is better than ever, richer, and with a more pronounced chocolate flavor. It's one of our favorite desserts (together with the Margarita Pie) for 5 de Mayo!
This is adapted from the recipe given to me by a Mexican friend of my grandmother's, the same one that taught me how to make Pastel Azteca (chicken tortilla casserole).
Flan is such a traditional dessert here in Argentina, I had to post about it. And chocolate flan made with condensed milk is an even simpler recipe than the old-fashioned, traditional flan.
About this recipe
- Creamy: using condensed milk and cream in flan recipes ensures a velvet custard that makes this dessert melt in your mouth.
- Flavor: I use semisweet chocolate and cocoa powder to infuse the milk and get a deeper, richer flavor, perfect for chocolate lovers.
- Make ahead: flan doesn't freeze well, but you can keep it in the pan in the refrigerator (well wrapped) for several days before removing and serving it.
Flan ingredients are simple, but since this recipe is chocolate flavored, keep in mind that the better the dark chocolate and cocoa powder you use, the better the result.
- Chocolate: use your favorite dark semisweet chocolate for this recipe. I love using Callebaut 54% dark chocolate callets, Ghirardelli Chocolate Dark Bar 60%, Green & Black's dark chocolate 70%, and Ghirardelli 72% intense dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less sweet the chocolate is.
- Cocoa powder: always use unsweetened like Hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder, Ghirardelli Premium baking cocoa, and Scharffen Berger natural cocoa powder. In my experience, the dark ones are the best (this does not apply to the super dark used for making homemade oreo cookies known as dark cocoa powder).
- Sweetened condensed milk: it's a must ingredient and can't be substituted. Use the regular type such as Carnation condensed milk, not unsweetened or evaporated milk.
- Milk: use whole milk for a richer flan.
- Cream: I find that any type works as long as it's the regular, full-fat type. I like double or heavy cream for this recipe.
- Eggs: can't have flan without eggs. Use fresh, large ones.
- Vanilla: I use pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla paste when available, but a good vanilla essence (artificially flavored) also works.
- Salt: I like to use fine sea salt or kosher salt for this recipe. But regular table salt works if that's all you have.
- Sugar: it's used for the caramel layer only and it must be white granulated sugar.
Steps to make chocolate flan
From caramelizing the pan to baking it in a water bath, you can have a great chocolate flan following my tips in the images and video below.
Watch our step-by-step videos
How to make the caramel
- Melting the sugar: for years, I melted the sugar directly in the pan I was using, just like I was taught (like in the Floating Island recipe post). But it's hard to manipulate a pan over a flame, and it takes skill not to get burned.
Now I make the caramel in a skillet first (image collage below) and then add it to the pan. It's an extra step that ends up being a shortcut because it makes your life easier and the chances of burning almost non-existent.
- When is the caramel done? When all of the sugar is dissolved, the caramel is ready. By the time this happens, it will be a deep amber color (image 4). Don't be tempted to cook it more as it can burn instantly, and you will have to start all over again.
- My tips: use a non-stick skillet and silicone spoon (or silicon spatula) for best results. Alternatively, you can use a wooden spoon as we used to before silicone was available. But the caramel will stick to it and be more laborious to wash.
Caramelizing the pan
If you think making flan is tricky, it's not. The only step that can be challenging is caramelizing the pan. So, let's dive into the details and tips.
- Beware how hot it is: the caramel-lined tube pan sounds complicated to some but it's a simple idea. The only thing to watch is that you're working with hot caramel. Caramel. Unbelievably hot caramel, the way only caramel can be.
- Top tip: make sure the center of the pan is coated. This is easily done with the help of a spoon, as shown below.
Making the chocolate custard
This is a chocolate egg mixture that involves heating some of the ingredients on the stove and mixing them with the rest. Very easy.
- Don't boil the milk and cream mixture. Use moderate heat and remove from the stove when you see the first bubbles appearing.
Add the hot milk/cream mixture over the chocolate and cocoa. Mix until well combined and the chocolate is completely melted.
Add the chocolate custard to the sweetened condensed milk in another bowl. Stir until smooth.
Pour the thick chocolate custard with condensed milk over the slightly beaten eggs and whisk to combine well. The final mixture is smooth and creamy but fluid.
Baking the flan
- Filling the pan: after the caramel layer has solidified, pour the chocolate flan mixture into the caramelized pan, slowly so it doesn't spill. The custard should fill the pan almost to the rim (image 2 below).
For easier handling and best results, do this close to the oven and place the caramelized pan inside the roasting pan before it's filled with water.
- Oven rack: have ready the preheated oven and the rack placed in the middle.
This step involves adding very hot water to the roasting pan or baking dish where the flan pan has been placed. If you want to achieve a very creamy texture this is an essential step. And who doesn't, right?
In this case, the water bath is very easy because we use a solid pan, not a springform pan as we use for a baked cheesecake, so there's hardly any chance of water getting into the pan and flan mixture.
The key to a water bath when baking flan? Add an inch or so of water to a large roasting pan with high sides, so it creates a humid environment and, even if it sputters a lot, the drops will not reach the chocolate flan mixture easily.
Refrigerating the flan
Again, a necessary step for the chocolate flan to settle, firm up and become creamy.
Cover it well with plastic wrap. There should be no open spaces for the air to enter so the custard doesn't dry while in the fridge. You can leave it for 3-4 days in the refrigerator before unmolding and serving it.
In this recipe with condensed milk, the custard will puff up slightly and not fall much after the dessert has been refrigerated for several hours.
Removing the flan from the pan
I recommend you watch the video above (right after the image of the ingredients), so you get an idea of what flipping the flan implies. This is simple but has a few details that must be taken into account:
- Start with a cold flan. Take it out of the fridge and place it over a low flame or electric stove (image below). Use a kitchen towel to hold the pan if it starts to heat too much. But use it around the sides or hold it from the top, as there's heat underneath.
- Loosen the bottom. You need to heat the layer of caramel until it loosens up and the flan is unstuck. When you move the pan quickly to the right and left, you will see that the flan moves and is completely detached from the pan. This is crucial for unmolding it in one piece.
- Hold the plate close to the pan. This is important so you don't spill the caramel sauce when you flip the whole thing. Or chance spilling the custard! Make sure your grip is keeping the plate pressed to the pan.
- Flip it over. Put the serving plate over the flan pan. It should cover the pan with extra side space for the caramel to settle. With a quick movement, flip it over! Make room around you, ensuring you have enough space to move your arms without interference.
- Both hands. I do it as you see in images 1 & 2 below, with both hands on the sides, but I know others that put one hand on top and one on the bottom, palms opened. And then flip the flan over. Whatever works for you.
- Final unmolding. Once you have flipped it and placed the serving plate on a flat surface, place both hands on top of the pan (image 3) and shake it a little until the flan loosens by itself. You will probably hear a dry plop sound when it falls on the serving plate.
- Remove the pan: make sure it's placed in the middle of the plate, and lift it with both hands. The caramel will drip to the sides and middle.
Serving the flan
- Decoration: this dessert serves 8, so I pipe dollops of whipped cream separating the portions to make it easier to cut later. Chocolate shavings are a great addition for extra flavor and texture.
- Plain: this chocolate flan is good on its own with just the caramel sauce created during the baking process.
- With dulce de leche: like we do here in Latin America, a big fat dollop on top that is amazing together with the layer of caramel.
- Mixed: served with both whipped cream and dulce de leche. An over-the-top dessert for sure!
- Organization: read the recipe first and ensure you have ingredients at the correct temperature, equipment, and enough workspace. This will make the process so much easier.
- Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer(like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust.
- Chocolate and cocoa powder: both act together to give this recipe a deep chocolate flavor. Use the best semisweet brands of bars and powder you can afford, as it will make a difference in the flavor.
- Refrigeration: it's an important step to allow the flan to settle and become creamier, similar to cheesecake.
- Flipping it over: this is the trickiest part for many, even more than making the caramel, and the secret is a very cold flan, straight from the refrigerator. Don't make it wait around. BUT, and this is another big one, you do have to soften the caramel before flipping or you won't be able to remove it in one piece. Watch the video in the post for step-by-step guidance.
- Flavorings: I sometimes add a cinnamon stick or cardamom pods (or both) to the milk and cream while they are heating to infuse a different flavor. Also, you can add drops of pure orange extract or coconut or coffee together with the vanilla. For a more Mexican dessert, add a pinch of ground chile and cinnamon to the chocolate mixture.
Frequently asked questions
It has to be creamy, soft, and smooth when you eat it. And have a good caramel around it. Signs of a not-too-good flan: it's grainy in the mouth, it's too dense and somewhat dry (over baking), and it's too watery with not enough flavor.
It will become dense, and firm, and start to dry out. It will not be as smooth and creamy as it should, with a thicker outer crust. It'll still be edible though, but not a great experience.
It should still be jiggly in the center and the edges will be set, similar to baked cheesecake. It will continue to bake with the residual heat until it cools down completely, so you don't want to let it become completely firm in the oven.
Cold. And you must follow this rule if you want good results. The only thing you do after you take it out of the refrigerator is to soften the caramel in the bottom; otherwise, you won't be able to remove it completely. You put the pan over a low flame or burner until the flan's bottom releases. You will feel it if you gently shake the pan. There is a step-by-step video showing all of this in the post.
Yes, it does if you want to achieve that creamy, smooth texture. And those qualities are essential to a good flan, so follow the instructions in this recipe, they're easy and you will get great results.
Related recipes you might like:
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To caramelize the pan:
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
For the custard:
- 1 can (14oz or 397g) sweetened condensed milk
- 1 can whole milk (use the same can)
- ½ can heavy cream
- ½ can water (I use the can and eyeball half water and half cream)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 3.5 ounces semisweet chocolate chunks
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 4 eggs, at room temperature
- Whipped cream and fruit, to serve, optional
If you never made flan, I recommend you watch the video at the beginning of this recipe card (it's also embedded in the post).
To caramelize the pan:
- Have ready a 9-inch flan pan which is round with a central tube. Or another tube pan with smooth sides (not intricate bundt ones).
- Trick: preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C. Put the flan pan inside while you make the caramel. This will help you coat it more easily with the caramel because of the warm surface; it will glide better. But this step is optional. Be sure to use kitchen mittens or towels when handling the pan.
- Pour the sugar into a non-stick skillet or saucepan and heat at medium temperature on the stovetop. Don't touch it at first.
- It will remain the same for a few minutes, but it will start to turn darker in a second.
- Stir it with a spoon (I use a silicone since the skillet is non-stick) constantly. It will be grainy and at some point you will feel it will never melt completely. Have patience.
- Adjust the temperature so that you allow it to melt but not burn in the process. If necessary, lift the skillet a couple of times or lower the heat.
- Dissolve the little pieces with the back of the spoon while you stir it.
- It's ready when no sugar bits remain. It will be a deep amber color.
- Pour into the prepared flan pan, grabbing it with thick kitchen towels or oven mitts, remember the pan is hot and the caramel even hotter.
- Swirl so that it coats the bottom and sides, and aid yourself with the back of a spoon to coat the central tube. Reserve.
For the custard:
- Open a can of condensed milk and pour the contents into a large bowl. Reserve.
- Using the same can as measure, put 1 can of milk, ½ can of cream and ½ can of water in a medium saucepan. I eyeball the water and cream in the same can until it fills up.
- Cook over medium heat, bring it to the point where it's about to boil and immediately turn the heat off.
- Put the chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium bowl, add the hot milk mixture and let stand for 1 minute to soften the chocolate.
- Whisk well until no flecks of chocolate remain, and let everything cool down until it is warm, about ½ hour. We need to add it to the eggs, and they might curdle if it's too hot.
- Preheat oven to 300º F /150º C.
- Have ready hot or boiling water for the water bath.
- Add the lukewarm chocolate mixture with the vanilla and salt into the condensed milk and mix until well incorporated.
- Whisk the eggs to blend in a large bowl.
- Gradually add the chocolate mixture and mix thoroughly until smooth.
- Put the flan pan (careful it might be hot from the caramel) in a larger one with 2 inch sides that will go into the oven. Pour the custard into into the flan pan. Do this near the oven for easier handling when the pan is full.
- Fill the larger pan with water until it reaches halfway up the flan pan.
- Bake for about 40 minutes, until the edges are set and the center is still quite jiggly. The time will vary depending on the pan's height and the oven.
- Turn the oven off and let cool down until warm in the oven.
- Remove from the water bath, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
- Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours, well covered. I do it from one day to the next. At this point, you can leave the flan in the pan for 3 days in the fridge.
- When you're ready to serve, put the pan directly on a low flame or electric burner and move it around to loosen the caramel. Shake the pan clockwise and counter-clockwise carefully until you feel the bottom is loose and the whole flan is moving.
- Invert onto a serving plate that is large enough to hold the dessert. It's better if it has some sort of edge to keep the caramel inside.
- Heat the caramel stuck in the bottom of the pan over the burner and use it as an extra sauce to serve. You can add a few tablespoons of water to make it thinner.
- Serve cold with whipped cream, chocolate shavings and fresh fruit. Or eat plain, it's amazing also.
Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!
Chocolate and cocoa powder: both act together to give this recipe a deep chocolate flavor. Use the best semisweet brands of both bars and powder you can afford as it will make a difference in the flavor.
Refrigeration: this is an important step to allow the flan to settle and become creamier, similar to what happens to cheesecake.
Flipping it over: this is the trickiest part for many, even more than making the caramel, and the secret is a very cold flan, straight from the refrigerator. Don't make it wait around. BUT, and this is another big one, you do have to soften the caramel before flipping or you won't be able to remove it in one piece. Watch the video in the post for step-by-step guidance.
Flavorings: I sometimes add a cinnamon stick or cardamom pods (or both) to the milk and cream while they are heating to infuse a different flavor. Also, you can add drops of pure orange extract or coconut or coffee together with the vanilla.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cooling + refrigeration time: 7 hours
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Category: Desserts
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Latin
- Serving Size: ⅛
- Calories: 440
- Sugar: 61.9 g
- Sodium: 121.7 mg
- Fat: 17.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 63.6 g
- Protein: 10.1 g
- Cholesterol: 133.1 mg
Keywords: chocolate flan