These ricotta cheese flans are seriously incredible! I served these for my dad’s 60th birthday, and he loved the creamy, light texture. My dad’s favorite dessert is cheesecake, and these flans are a delicious cross between cheesecake and custard–definitely non-traditional. And let’s not forget that amber caramel. Is there anything better than spooning bittersweet caramel sauce over milky, jiggly custard?
Flavors: Sweet, Bitter
Mouthfeel: Creamy, Smooth, Sticky
My husband inspired me to make this recipe. Marcus usually lights up when he sees flan on a dessert menu. Over the years, his enthusiasm has made a strong impression on me. I’ve come to appreciate flan over the years, but never have I tasted flan like this. The ricotta and cream cheese make this one of the best tasting flans I’ve ever had.
Since it’s just the two of us, we had to eat all of these by ourselves. I know, right? That’s a lot of flan, but you know what? Now that they’re all gone, I’m actually really missing having flan in the fridge. When I make this recipe, I just keep it in the ramekins until I’m ready to serve. It’s an instant gourmet dessert that tastes the same on day 1 as it does on day 4!
While I’ve seen flan made with egg beaters, where the goal is to avoid whipping too much air into the custard, this recipe is more forgiving. Also, side-note: I don’t currently own egg beaters. Luckily, the addition of the cream cheese and ricotta solves the bubble problem. Actually, I’ve gotten really consistent results using a whisk attachment in my stand mixer even with changes to oven temperature and cooking time.
My experience making the caramel is another story. Heating sugar is a bit finicky, and I’m beginning to get superstitious about the process. I experimented with different methods and researched how to troubleshoot common flan caramel problems, and I reveled in the large online community that exists on this very topic.
Here’s some troubleshooting to save you from #flanproblems
My caramel is seizing. What did I do wrong?
Something about a pot full of sugar and water scream STIR ME, but that is the cardinal sin of caramel making.
My first attempt, I stirred, and I stirred, until I watched my sugar seize into a sorry bunch of sugar chunks. If this happens to you, I sympathize. Fear not! You may save your sugar yet. Simply add more water and start the process again. Only this time, DO NOT STIR.
Hmmmm. What’s a metaphor for caramel making that will prepare us flan makers for the task ahead? Imagine staring at a pot of sugar water that refuses to do anything.
Nothing. 2 minutes.
Nothing. 3 minutes.
Nothing. 4 minutes.
Then, suddenly you see bubbles with a slight hue of gold. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. You get to jiggle and swirl the pot a bit so that your amber hue spreads evenly. As you watch you wonder, “just how amber is ‘dark amber’ anyway?” I would say it’s ambiguously in the 15 seconds between light amber and burnt. Sorry, but it’s the best possible description!
Some people use a wet pastry brush to brush the sides of the pot in the early phases of melting the sugar. I don’t like using pastry brushes because they tend to retain oils and flavors so I skipped this entirely. Other people use a lid as they’re beginning to heat their syrup. Both the lid and pastry brush serve to keep the sugar from forming a dry crust on the sides of the pot. In my experience, it doesn’t matter if this happens so I say, let the sugar crystallize on the sides a bit. Doesn’t bother me.
To tent your flan or not to tent?
Some people hate a flan with a skin. I’m Switzerland on the issue at the moment, but if you’re having this issue with your flan, you can tent your flans by folding a large piece of tin foil in half and covering them while they bake.
This will keep the top very silky smooth. I tried it both ways with this particular recipe, and I didn’t think it made a noticeable difference, so I decided to save myself (and you all) from wasting tinfoil.
When I turned the flan out of the ramekin, I noticed some of the caramel crystallized in the bottom. Argh. At this point, I simply tried warming it in the microwave in 20 second intervals. I discovered that this will soften the caramel just long enough to form thin strands of sugar using spoons, but this does not allow you to pour your sauce over your flan without it hardening big time.
Since I like pressing sugar into strands with spoons, I decided to go this route. Turns out, this is a really fun texture element for serving flan with the caveat that the sugar strands can be difficult to eat (read: sharp).
Hardened flan sugar can be heated to make a sugar garnish.
Flan Caramel Crystallizes or Gets Stuck in Ramekin
If you want to use the hard caramel left in the bottom of the ramekin, your best bet is to add a tablespoon of boiling water and allow it to sit for a while. This will break down the sugar and retain the flavor of the caramel. Note that the longer your flans stay in the refrigerator (think days), the more likely your crystallized sugar will return to a liquid state. This is all a part of normal flan making, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
As I was testing the yield of this recipe, I ended up with leftover custard. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I put it in the freezer to make ice cream. Holy Cow did it come out good. It’s every bit as delicious as the best gelato I’ve ever eaten and if you end up with leftovers because you are short on ramekins, you can make some damn good flan ice cream by slowly heating your flan mixture while whisking until it begins to thicken. Transfer to your ice cream machine per manufacturer’s instructions and voila: flan ice cream.
Ricotta Cheese Flans
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 2 cups cane sugar, divided
- 2 large egg yolks
- 4 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Boiling water
- Preheat the oven to 350℉. Line a baking dish with a double layer of paper towels and set the ramekins on the towels. To make the custard, use a stand mixer fitted with a whisk to beat both cheeses with 1 cup of sugar, scraping the sides with a spatula. Mix until very smooth, 2 minutes. Beat in the yolks and whole eggs one at a time until incorporated, then add the milk, cream, vanilla, and salt. Set aside.
- Next make the caramel sauce that will go in the bottom of each ramekin. In a medium pot, combine the remaining 1 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup of water. Over low heat, stir until sugar dissolves, then increase heat to medium high to bring the syrup to a boil. Do not stir, but occasionally swirl the pan. Cook until a deep amber caramel forms, about 10 minutes. Working quickly, pour the caramel into 10 4-oz ramekins or 8 6-oz ramekins, swirling to coat the bottoms.
- Pour the custard into the ramekins, filling to the top. Open the oven door, and set the baking pan with ramekins inside on the door while carefully filling the pan with enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the pan to the center oven rack.
- Bake the flans for 50 minutes or until edges are set and the center retains a slight jiggle. Use tongs to carefully transfer ramekins to a rack to cool completely. Refrigerate covered with plastic wrap for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight.
- Set ramekins in a shallow dish of hot water to soften caramel. Run a small offset spatula around the outside edge of each ramekin and invert the custard over a plate. If the custard doesn't come out, break the suction by tapping gently or encourage the flan by gently pressing one edge with an offset spatula. Serve immediately.
*Adapted from Food and Wine