More than a few reservations are made in Uno Mas purely on the basis of their flan. The wobbly, caramel covered custard has reached legendary status amongst Dublin diners, and at this stage it should probably have its own fan (flan?) account. Flans feel complicated, like there's a bit of kitchen magic needed to turn out the perfectly round, sweet, set dessert, and many of us are too intimidated to try it at home - so we go to Uno Mas instead. We wanted to see if we could get close to it in our own kitchens, so we asked chef and recipe developer Beth O'Brien to try nine different recipes, and give us her verdicts...
Before attempting to recreate the legendary Uno Mas “flan de queso”, I first had to figure out exactly what a flan is. This brought me down a flan-shaped rabbit hole, in which I discovered the following...
Flan as we know it originated in Rome, and was adopted by many European nations, including the Spanish (who added caramel, and brought flan to the Yucatan peninsula). French flan is typically baked in a tart crust, and the custard usually includes cornflour, while the Spanish/Latin version is an egg-based custard baked in a water-bath, with a layer of caramel on the bottom (which ends up on top when you turn it out). Variations on a flan theme have been adopted by many countries including most of Central and South America, China, the Philippines, Germany, Japan and Vietnam.
Flan usually calls for multiple types of dairy products (milk, cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, cream cheese etc.). There are also many flan-adjacent desserts which involve some form of baked egg-based custard. Crème caramel, for example, has a layer of caramel on top, and uses only whole milk or cream, eggs, and sugar. Crème brulée is similar but the sugar is baked on top so that it forms a hard caramelised layer which shatters when you eat it.
Crema Catalana seems to be very similar to a crème brûlée, but originates in Catalonia. Leche asada (literally “roasted milk”) is similar to a flan, but instead of being baked in a bain-marie, it is baked normally in the oven, so the texture ends up a bit firmer/tougher. There’s also clafoutis and Far Breton which are also baked custards, but usually with fruit (in my experience, Far Breton normally has prunes).
For the purposes of this experiment, I decided to focus on Spanish/Latin style flans, and chose to order them by country: Vietnam, Venezuela, Chile, Philippines, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil - and finally, a crème caramel (just to compare). I'll do a brief rundown of each one, and then give a few tips from my flan-tastic (sorry) day of recipe testing.
1) Food 52's Vietnamese Flan
This was made with condensed milk and whole milk, and flavoured with coffee and vanilla. It took a long time to bake, but the flavour was great - very into the coffee/condensed milk combo. Fine the recipe for Food 52's Vietnamese Coffee Flan here.
2) Venezuelan Flan (Quesillo)
Also condensed milk and milk, flavoured with vanilla. This one was delicious - very light and smooth, with great texture. It didn't have the best structure though, could have probably done with a longer chill in the fridge. Find the recipe for Venezuelan Flan here.
3) Chilean Leche Asada
This one used condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla. It had a really interesting, almost sticky texture and great flavour - sweet but in a bitter, caramelly kinda way. Excellent jiggle. Find the recipe for Hispanic Kitchen's Leche Asada here.
4) Filipino Leche Flan
Used condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream cheese. I really liked the texture of this one, and structure was spot on - came out of the ramekin perfectly, held its shape well (nice and tall). Find the recipe for Filipino Leche Flan here.
5) Cuban Flan de Queso
Also used condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream cheese which seems to be a winning combo. Loved the flavour of this one, and it was probably the prettiest - so smooth and perfect structural integrity. Find the recipe for Cuban Flan de Queso here.
6) Mexican Flan
This flan used milk and cream, as well as eggs and a yolk, which was a fun addition. The flavour of this one was lovely (chamomile, à la Susan Spungen) and the texture was great. Find the recipe for Susan Spungen's chamomile flan here.
7) Argentinean Dulce de Leche Flan
The no-holds-barred flan. It used milk, cream, condensed milk and dulce de leche and was flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla. Loved the flavour of this one and it had really nice texture and structure. Find the recipe for dulce de leche flan here.
8) Brazilian Flan (Pudim de Leite Condensado)
No extra flavourings but it did keep its structure very well and the texture was nice - just took ages to bake! Find the recipe for Brazilian Flan here.
9) French Crème Caramel
In comparison, much simpler - just milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla. This was lovely, not too sweet, held its shape v well and had a good wobble. Much lighter and more refined, but I think my sugar-crazed brain at this point missed the texture you get from condensed/evaporated milk. Find the recipe for crème caramel here.
- There's no need to butter the molds when pouring in the caramel, but I do think it adds to the flavour, and also strongly believe that the addition of butter can only ever a good thing.
- I baked all in a bain-marie at 165C,and found that it was best not to cover them with tin foil. No matter how tempted, do not remove from the bain-marie until baked - the texture starts to do weird things when you get impatient and pull them out of the water bath early (I would never). They took between 40 and 80 minutes, but you do need to check them regularly and bake until they wobble a little in the centre, but don't jiggle across the whole surface. WOBBLE, don't JIGGLE.
- When making the caramel for the bottom, you can take it pretty dark - it won't get any darker during baking, and the contrast between the bitter caramel and the custard is pretty lovely. Don't put too much in though, because it will not stick to the flan, it will stick to your ramekin and stay there for a long time.
- The best texture, in my opinion, came from a combination of evaporated milk and condensed milk, with the additions of cream cheese and dulce de leche also welcome.
- For flavouring, you can't go wrong with vanilla (vanilla bean paste, or a bean if you can get one). Coffee is nice too.
- When taking them out of the moulds, loosen around the edge with a knife and then put a plate on top and flip it over with FORCE. You have to kind of hurl it to make sure it comes out in one go (it also makes the most satisfying "whoomph" sound which is fun).
- It's v important to let these chill overnight before turning out of the ramekin, so definitely bake them the night before!
My joint favourites, and the ones that I feel come closest to the Uno Mas flan are Cuban and Filipino. Both of these incorporate a small amount of cream cheese, which feels appropriate given that the Uno Mas flan is a "flan de queso". I think the combination of condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream cheese is perfect - really smooth, holds its shape well, sweet but relatively complex from the variety of dairy products. I would recommend adding vanilla though, both for flavour and the lovely black flecks you get from bean paste/pods.