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Difference Between Flan and Crème Brulee

Crème Brulee and flan (crème caramel) are the two most favorite custard desserts to end a delicious meal. Both these dessert custards have their roots in Europe, and are not popular the world over. They basically have the same formula of ingredients and impart almost the same flavors, and so that makes it hard to distinguish between the two. There are, however, some key differences, mainly with the ratio of ingredients, the preparation method, serving method and additional components such as toppings and coatings.


What is crème Brulee?

Crème Brulee is a baked custard dessert thickened with cream, egg yolks and vanilla extracts. But these ingredients may differ. Other dishes may have the cream and egg yolk as thickeners. The dessert is prepared in a pudding-like custard base while sugar is sprinkled and broiled with a torch to form a hard caramelized layer on top of the custard. The end result will be silky smooth, rich and sweet custard with a glossy texture ready to end a delicious meal. Crème Brulee basically uses a combination of heavy and light creams, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla extracts. The name crème Brulee is actually French for “burn custard”.

Crème Brulee is, however, a complex recipe just like flan (crème caramel). An amateur cooker must expect to take from 3 to 5 hours to excel in it. As one gets used to it, it may take even less than 2 hours to complete the preparation. The usual ingredients of crème Brulee include 1 ½ cup of a heavy cream, a cup of light cream, ¼ cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, and large eggs.

What is flan?

The other name for flan is crème caramel – custard made of cream, milk, sugar and egg yolks while baked in ramekins lined with caramel sauce until it has a soft texture. The main difference lies in the ratio of ingredients which is important to avoid compromising a rich texture and identity of the custard. Too much sugar, for instance, can compromise the texture, and so are too much cream or milk and egg yolks.

The preparation of flan, like crème Brulee, can take much of your time, so expect to take several hours to master the dessert.  Basically, the ingredients include ¼ cup of water, a cup of sugar, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon of nutmeg, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, and large eggs. The ratio of ingredients may differ from one dish to the other.


Key differences between flan and crème Brulee

Cooking/Baking Method

These custards are mainly cooked under a gentle heat while being baked in a preheated oven. Much of the details are explained in the aforementioned recommended YouTube videos on how to cook these dessert custards.


Crème Brulee is basically made of cream, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla extracts and flan (cream caramel) also made of cream or milk, vanilla, sugar and egg yolks. The ingredients are generally identical but differ in proportion when preparing these desserts. The toppings and coatings also differ. They are all thickened with egg yolks.

It is the toppings that mainly differentiate crème Brulee and crème caramel (flan). For instance, flan is characterized by a soft caramel layer on top while crème Brulee has a hard caramel layer created by the addition of a torched or broiled sugar that leaves crust. These toppings may, however, vary depending on the cultural origin of the deserts if it is, for example, Latin American or French cuisine.


The texture of the custard desserts also set them apart. Crème Brulee has a delicate layer of caramel. The way it was prepared with cream, vanilla extra and egg yolks while baked in a pudding-like custard base gives it a unique texture. It gets refrigerated afterwards and the sugar is sprinkled and broiled with a torch to give it a caramelized texture.

Flan, on the other hand, has been prepared with egg yolks, vanilla, milk or cream to give it a soft caramel layer. Its texture may also depend on its origin. For instance, a European flan may be topped with a caramelized sugar while a Latin one is immersed in milky caramel syrup.

Comparison Chart for flan Vs. crème Brulee


Summary of flan and crème Brulee 

  • Crème Brulee and crème caramel (flan) are two popular dessert custards
  • They are basically made of same ingredients but in different ratio
  • Crème Brulee has a hard caramelized layer while flan has a soft layer
  • Crème Brulee is a French name for a burnt custard hence it has a sugar crust made by torching or broiling sugar
  • Both take time to prepare especially for amateurs
  • They are prepared in preheated ovens and baked in a gentle heat, but flan may be baked upside down
  • Crème Brulee is usually served in dishes whereas flan is served as a standalone
  • While the desserts are made of the same ingredients, they mainly differ in toppings or coatings and in preparation methods.

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  1. I think I’ll stick to making an Angel Food Cake and not open the oven that I bake it in so that it doesn’t de-stabilize and become something else!

  2. Think there’s a typo in the first paragraph. Should be “…are now popular throughout the world.” instead of “…are not popular”.

  3. In the Philippines a great leche flan is considered mandatory at parties and any other special times when people get together to eat. It’s part of their Spanish/Mexican heritage. I was fortunate 48 years ago to have married a young Filipina whose mother taught her how to be a flan specialist. Her flan is the absolute best in the world. The only people who can come close are our two daughters who learned at their mama’s knee.

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References :

[0]Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/4860111256

[1]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/en/flan-sweet-dessert-sugar-delicious-1985523/

[2]Doc Thompson (Dec 6, 2017). What’s the difference between crème brûlée and flan? Accessed at: https://www.theblaze.com/video/watch-whats-the-difference-between-creme-brulee-and-flan. Accessed on: 28 June 2018.

[3]Randolph W. Mann (2004). Creme Brulee: The Bonjour Way. Silverback Books

[4]Susannah Chen (Dec. 13, 2014). Everything You Ever Wondered About Dessert Custards. Accessed at: https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/158647/everything-you-ever-wondered-about-dessert-custards/. Accessed on: 28 June 2014. 

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