Let the flan chill before inverting onto a plate.
"Flan is the pre-eminent dessert of Spain and Latin America, and it is also a favorite in France, where it is known as crème renversée au caramel or, popularly, crème caramel," write the authors of the 1997 edition of "The Joy of Cooking."
"Flan is a stiff egg custard baked in a mold with caramel at its bottom. It is turned out of its baking dish and served upside down. The caramel, which melts during baking, forms a lovely syrup that soaks the bottom of the custard and runs down onto the plate. Be aware that the baked custards must chill thoroughly."
Flan (Crème Caramel)
1/2 cups sugar, divided use
1/4 cup water
5 large eggs or 4 large eggs and 3 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole or low-fat milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Make sure the syrup is clear before bringing to a boil.
Place 3/4 cup sugar in a small, heavy saucepan. Drizzle water even over the top. Place the pan over medium heat and, without stirring, very gently swirl the pan by the handle until a clear syrup forms. It is important that the syrup clarify before it boils, so slide the pan on and off the burner as necessary. Increase the heat to high and bring the syrup to a rolling boil; cover the pan tightly and boil for 2 minutes. Uncover the pan and cook the syrup until it begins to darken. Gently swirl the pan by the handle once again and cook the syrup until it turns a deep amber. Quickly pour the caramel into eight (6-ounce) custard cups or ramekins or a 2- to 2 1/2-quart soufflé dish. Using a potholder, immediately tilt the cups or dish to spread the caramel over the bottom and halfway up the sides.
Whisk the eggs, 3/4 cup sugar and salt until blended.
Heat the milk until just steaming. Gradually whisk the milk into the egg mixture and stir gently until the sugar is dissolved. If you wish, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl or large measure with a pouring lip. Stir in vanilla. Pour into the caramel-lined cups or dish. Place ramekins or dish in a larger dish and fill half-way up with boiling water. Bake until firmly set in the center, about 40-60 minutes for individual cups, 60 to 90 minutes for a single dish. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.
To unmold, dip the cups or dish briefly in hot water, loosen the edges with a knife and invert onto individual plates or a large plate. The plate for a large flan must be either broad or deep to catch all the caramel.
Makes 8 servings.
From "The Joy of Cooking," 1997 edition