Called bánh caramel or kem caramel in the north, and bánh flan or kem flan in the south, Vietnamese crème caramel is a steamed custard made with coconut milk.
I made this back in February of 2008. At the time, I hadn’t set foot in Vietnam yet, I knew very little about its cuisine, and I thought I invented a new sweet dish. I simply called it coconut custard and, in parenthesis, leche flan with coconut milk.
There is also a variation with mango puree which I made a mere two weeks before this one. But that one, I’ll post a separate recipe for.
So, is bánh flan anything like its French ancestor? Yes and no. There’s no dairy milk in bánh flan; there’s coconut milk (or, in my case, a combination of coconut cream and milk infused with pandan leaves) instead. It isn’t cooked in the oven with a water bath; it is steamed.
What bánh flan shares with the French crème caramel is the silky smooth texture of the custard. And the caramelized sugar topping which, in the case of bánh flan is a shade darker which gives it a slightly nutty but not quite bitter flavor.
Bánh Flan (Vietnamese Crème Caramel)
- heat-proof ramekin or dish
- Pour 1/4 cup sugar into a small sauce pan and stir in a tablespoon of water. Set over medium heat and cook until the sugar starts to melt. Swirl the pan often, continue cooking until syrupy and amber-colored (see how to caramelize sugar).
- Pour the caramelized sugar into the bottom of a heat-proof ramekin or dish and tilt in every direction to allow the sugar to spread before it hardens. Set aside.
- Pour the coconut milk into a small sauce pan, stir in the remaining white sugar and salt, and throw in the pandan leaves. Set over low heat and cook, stirring, just until the sugar melts. Do not allow to boil.
- Stir the coconut cream into the heated coconut milk until smooth. Set aside to cool completely.
- Prepare your steamer by pouring enough water into the basin to reach a depth of at least two inches. If the cover of your steamer is glass or metal, wrap it with a cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. This will absorb steam to prevent it from condensing and falling into the bánh flan.
- Start heating the water in the steamer. You want to bring it to a gentle boil before you put in the uncooked bánh flan (see how to boil water and why it is important to know).
- In a mixing bowl, stir the egg yolks (do not beat) to break them up.
- Take the cooled coconut cream and milk mixture, discard the pandan leaves, and pour into the egg yolks. Stir until evenly colored.
- Pour the egg-milk mixture into the ramekin lined with caramelized sugar.
- Set the ramekin into the steamer basket, cover the steamer and cook the bánh flan over gently boiling water. How long depends on the thickness of the custard in relation to the size of the ramekin. A custard about an inch and a half thick will only take about 15 minutes to cook.
- To test if the bánh flan is done, take a wooden toothpick and insert at the center until it is halfway through the custard. Your skewer doesn't need to touch the bottom of the ramekin. If the toothpick comes out with semi solid custard coating it, it is done. The bánh flan will continue cooking off the heat. If you get liquid when you pull out the toothpick, continue steaming.
- Remove the ramekin from the steamer and set on a rack to cool. Cover with foil or cling film and chill the bánh flan in the fridge for a few hours.
- Invert the bánh flan on a plate and serve.
If you cooked this dish (or made this drink) and you want to share your masterpiece, please use your own photos and write the cooking steps in your own words.