So I've been testing this eggless creme caramel recipe (also known as flan) for several months now and finally, I'm happy to share it with you. It does take a little bit of preparation and patience. But, once you follow the instructions I promise you, it will be a recipe you come back to over and over again.
This vegan creme caramel is essentially based on both my vegan panna cotta and creme brulee recipes. I made some modifications to adjust the texture and flavor to best represent a creme caramel without using eggs or dairy.
📖 Recipe Overview
- Smooth and creamy "melt in the mouth" consistency
- Intense caramel and fragrant vanilla flavors
- Keeps setting agents to a minimum to avoid an over-set or "jelly" like texture
- An impressive vegan dessert for dinner parties or special occasions.
- Eggless, dairy-free, and gluten-free with a nut-free option
🍮 What is Crème Caramel?
Crème caramel (caramel custard or flan) is a French custard dessert with caramel that is traditionally made with eggs and dairy. So naturally, I had to whip up my vegan version of it! It's commonly known as "flan" in many Spanish-speaking countries around the world.
There are so many variations of traditional flans around the world. Confusingly enough in Ireland and some other European countries, a flan is actually a filled pastry! But just know that when I refer to the name "flan" in this post, it is in the context of creme caramel.
🧾 Ingredients Needed
- Caster sugar, otherwise known as superfine sugar. I find it great for caramel recipes as it has smaller granules that dissolve more easily than granulated sugar.
- Water: I don't often list water as an ingredient but it is key to get the exact measurement so I recommend getting it measured in advance of making the recipe.
- Almond milk: Almond milk has a nice neutral flavor and creamy consistency which I find the best for homemade vegan creme caramel.
- Canned coconut milk: You'll need full-fat canned coconut milk here, and only use the thick part from the top of the can. This way it will still have a lot of its setting properties, giving a creamy consistency to your vegan creme caramel.
- Cornflour: Or cornstarch if you live in the US. This is a great egg replacement for vegan recipes. Its thickening properties, together with coconut milk help to replace the function of eggs in traditional crème caramel recipes.
- Agar-agar powder: So I did try this recipe A LOT without using this ingredient, as I was determined to create a vegan flan without agar. But unfortunately, food science says you need it to get a good texture! The agar has gelling properties, which provide stability. It also helps to prevent the top of your flan from cracking and caving in when removed from its mold.
- Vanilla extract and vanilla pod: Although the vanilla pod is optional, I really do recommend using both extract and a pod. The vanilla flavor is prominent in the custard layer of this dessert. Plus using real vanilla gives it those beautiful vanilla specks.
- Sea salt: A touch of salt helps to balance the sweetness while enhancing both the vanilla and caramel flavors in this vegan dessert.
🥣 How To Make Vegan Crème Caramel
Find the complete list of ingredients, quantities, and instructions in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Step 1: Make the caramel sauce
If you're nervous about making a wet caramel sauce, don't be! The key to getting it right is patience and timing. As long as you follow the steps and avoid things like stirring the caramel and keep a close eye on the pan it's pretty straightforward. There are more tips over on Cooks Illustrated on how to make foolproof caramel.
Firstly, weigh out your sugar and water and place them in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place it on low-medium heat (yes I do recommend using digital kitchen scales for this recipe to get the most accurate results).
Using a spoon gently stir the sugary water to help dissolve the sugar, once it has dissolved turn up the heat to medium-high, and DO NOT TOUCH it anymore (super important)!
Once the caramel starts to turn light amber gently tilt the pan to evenly distribute the caramelization. Once the caramel turns an amber color remove it from the heat. If it gets too dark it will give a more bitter taste.
Now you'll need to work quickly as the caramel will start to harden pretty fast when removed from the heat. Pour the caramel into your ramekins (you'll need 4 large 240ml or 6 medium 180ml porcelain ramekins) and set them aside at room temperature to harden.
Step 2: Make the custard
To make the custard element of this recipe start by combining the almond milk, sugar, cornflour, and, agar-agar powder in a saucepan. Whisk vigorously over low-heat to evenly mix the ingredients and dissolve the sugar.
Next add in the remaining creme caramel ingredients (coconut milk, vanilla pod, vanilla extract, and sea salt) and bring the mixture to a simmer on medium-high heat.
Now continue to simmer for 5 minutes whilst whisking and stirring, in order to cook out the cornflour and activate the agar-agar. The custard will thicken a lot during cooking.
Once ready, remove the custard from the heat and pass it through a fine-mesh sieve. This will remove the vanilla pod and any larger particles it left behind.
Allow the custard to cool for about 20 minutes before transferring it to the ramekins. If added too hot it will melt the caramel layer too quickly and you won't get that gorgeous clean finish on top.
Use a spoon to smooth out the tops of the vegan coconut flan, cover in clingfilm, and off into the fridge with them to chill for at least 8-12 hours.
This may seem like a long time but it's totally worth it to get the most out of that caramel layer on top. According to Serious Eats, because sugar is hygroscopic it pulls in humidity and moisture from its environment meaning that the hard caramel will turn back into a liquid underneath the cold custard. Hence, when you turn out your creme caramel a delicious fountain of vegan caramel sauce will follow.
Step 3: Demolding creme caramel
Just before serving, very carefully run a sharp knife about 1 inch deep around the inner edge of the ramekins to loosen the custard. Be careful not to go deeper as this can ruin the smooth appearance of the flan.
Place a serving plate on top of one of the ramekins and quickly turn them over. Very slowly start to lift the ramekin, you should be able to hear a "slurp" as the creme caramel unmolds itself. As the caramel starts to run down the sides the flan should release from the mold.
- Almond milk: If you want to make this flan nut-free, you can use soy milk or coconut drinking milk in its place.
- Agar-agar: Although I have not tried it, you could likely use another vegan gelling agent (carrageenan, vegeset) for dairy-free creme caramel, although I cannot recommend the quantity for alternatives as all setting agents have different potencies.
❄️ Storage instructions
These vegan creme caramels are best served within the first 1-2 days once they have been set. Do not remove them from the ramekins until just before serving. I recommend making them the day/night before you serve them.
📝 Recipe Tips
Chill your coconut milk. Chilling your cans of coconut milk helps to separate the coconut cream (the part you want) from the watery part of the can. Coconut cream thickens when chilled, which helps to stabilize this eggless creme caramel recipe.
Prepare. Working with caramel means working quickly. Prepare and measure out your ingredients, and get your equipment ready in advance. I also recommend you read over the recipe a couple of times before getting started.
Don't disturb the caramel. I know it's tempting, but stirring the caramel sauce once the sugar has dissolved can cause crystallization.
Add cornflour and agar to cold liquids. Once heated, cornflour begins to thicken and agar becomes activated. This means that adding it to hot liquids can cause lumps. So add them to cold liquids and whisk throughout the heating process for a silky smooth custard.
Stir and whisk. Alternating between a rubber spatula and a whisk will help to prevent the custard from sticking to the bottom of your pan.
Pass the cooked custard through a fine-mesh sieve. This ensures that you get a beautifully smooth finish without any particles or residue from the vanilla pod.
Lower the custard temperature. Before adding it to the ramekins, the hot custard will melt the room-temperature caramel underneath and cause it to seep into the custard.
Chill for 8-12 hours. I know, I know, the anticipation of turning over those beautiful flans is real. But these desserts need time in the fridge to allow the caramel to do its thing and melt. If you remove the flans from the fridge after a few hours, they "might" be set enough for your liking. However, a lot of the caramel sauce will still be hard and stuck to the bottom of the ramekin.
I don't recommend freezing them as this will potentially ruin their creamy consistency.
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that traditionally uses gelatin as a setting agent, traditional creme caramel recipes usually rely on eggs for their setting properties, neither of which are suitable for vegans.
While creme caramel is traditionally baked in a caramel-lined ramekin which leaves a layer of caramel sauce on top, creme brulee is usually baked and topped with sugar that is caramelized. Although for this vegan version of creme caramel we don't bake it at all!
🥮 More Vegan Puddings
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Vegan Creme Caramel (Flan)
- 75 g (2.65 oz) water
- 200 g (1 cup) caster sugar (superfine)
- 500 ml (2.1 cups) almond milk (unsweetened), use soy milk/coconut drinking milk for nut-free version
- 80 g (0.4 cups) caster sugar (superfine)
- 65 g (0.5 cup) cornflour (cornstarch)
- ¼ teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) agar agar powder, NOT agar flakes *see recipe notes
- 1 vanilla pod, optional but recommended
- 300 g (10.6 oz) full-fat chilled canned coconut milk, *see recipe notes
- 2 teaspoons (2 teaspoons) vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon (¼ teaspoon) sea salt
- I highly recommend reading through the tips in the blog post above and reading over this recipe a couple of times before getting started for success.
- Place 4 large (240ml) or 6 small (180ml) ramekins on a tray and set aside.
- Add the water and caster sugar to a saucepan and place on it a low heat. Stir the mixture with a spoon for several minutes until all of the sugar has dissolved.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and DO NOT TOUCH OR STIR IT from this point on. Keep a very close eye on the saucepan, the mixture will start to boil and bubble. After several minutes it will start to turn a light caramel color in places. Very gently swirl the pan so that it caramelizes evenly. Once the caramel turns a deep amber color, remove it from the heat.
- Distribute the caramel between your ramekins, working quickly as it will set very fast. Allow the caramel to come to room temperature and harden (about 30 minutes).
- Add the almond milk, caster sugar, cornflour, and agar-agar powder to a saucepan and place on it a low heat. Whisk vigorously for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
- Slice the vanilla pod in half and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and pod to a saucepan along with the coconut milk, vanilla extract, and salt.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, while continuously whisking. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, the custard will start to thicken. Make sure you are constantly stirring the custard to avoid it burning to the bottom of the pan. I recommend alternating between a whisk and rubber spatula.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat. Pass the mixture through a sieve to remove any large particles from the vanilla pod. Allow it to cool at room temperature for 20 minutes. Every 5 minutes, whisk the custard to prevent a skin from forming on top of it.
- Distribute the custard between the ramekins and smooth out the tops using the back of a spoon. Cover them with clingfilm before placing them in the fridge. Refrigerate for 8-12 hours.
De-molding the creme caramels
- Just before serving, very carefully run a sharp knife about 1 inch deep around the inner edge of the ramekins to loosen the custard. Be careful not to go deeper as this can ruin the smooth appearance of the flan.
- Place a serving plate on top of one of the ramekins and quickly turn them over. Very slowly start to lift the ramekin, you should be able to hear a "slurp" as the creme caramel unmolds itself.
- These vegan creme caramels are best served within the first 1-2 days once they have been set. Do not remove them from the ramekins until just before serving. I recommend making them the day/night before you serve them.
- Coconut milk: Refrigerate the cans of coconut milk overnight, then only use the thick cream from the top of the cans. This recipe will need 2-3 400ml cans, depending on which brand you use (I find Biona has the best yield of cream)
- Agar-agar powder: ¼ teaspoon will give a barely set silky smooth creamy consistency which I personally prefer. If you are looking for a slightly more set flan you could use ½ a teaspoon. I have not tried it, you could likely use another vegan gelling agent (carrageenan, vegeset), although I cannot recommend the quantity for alternatives as all setting agents have different potencies.
- Almond milk: If you want to make this flan nut-free, you can use soy milk or coconut drinking milk in its place.
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