The Difference Between Leche Flan, Creme Caramel, And Creme Brulee

These creamy desserts have a few differences.

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Leche flan is arguably one of the best desserts. It's a rich, creamy, and sweet dessert that is always expected to be present at every Pinoy party and gathering. 

Outside the country, however, this kind of dessert has another name. In fact, it may have few other names. These creamy desserts may have different names but there are both similarities and differences between leche flan, creme caramel, and creme brulee

However, one thing is clear: 

All three are made with eggs, a kind of dairy, and sugar.  

All three are luscious egg custards. The three kinds of desserts use similar ingredients to make a luscious and creamy dessert. However, it's the kind of dairy, the part of the eggs, and what is done to the sugar that makes these three so different from each other. 

These are the things that set each of these desserts apart from one another:  

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1 The leche flan is made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, egg yolks, and caramelized sugar.  

It's apparent to anyone who has made leche flan that using egg yolks is the surefire way of ensuring that it's rich and creamy. The fat in egg yolks makes it incredibly rich. The evaporated milk increases the creaminess of the dessert while the lightly caramelized nature of sweetened condensed milk creates a perfectly sweet custard. 

Sometimes, the rind of a dayap or the local lime is added to give it a complementary local flavor that's classic and traditional. You can substitute it with a lemon or lime peel or even calamansi to keep the flavor local. It's poured into a llanera or aluminum oval pan lined with caramelized sugar and steamed until barely set. It's then chilled until cold before being flipped over and served. 

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2 Both crème caramel and crème brûlée use fresh milk and whole eggs.  

The crème caramel or caramel flan, as well as the crème brûlée, are both made with fresh milk, sugar, and whole eggs. Unlike the leche flan where both kinds of milk are shelf-stable canned ingredients, fresh ingredients are the common ingredients used for these two versions. It creates an egg custard that is not quite as eggy in taste and not as creamy but still soft, silky, and delicious nonetheless. 

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Since these use the whole egg, there is no need to think of ways to use or store the reserved egg whites that is usually the common dilemma of those who make leche flan. This is why the leche flan is seen as richer tasting and creamier in texture.  

To adjust the texture and creaminess of both the crème caramel and crème brûlée, sometimes, cream instead of milk or a combination of the two kinds of milk are used to create a custard that's silkier in texture.

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3 The leche flan is steamed. The crème brûlée and crème caramel are baked. 

The leche flan is popular among those without an oven because it's a no-bake dessert. A stove and a pot are all that's needed. You can even steam leche flan in the rice cooker if you use the steamer insert.

In contrast, the crème brûlée and crème caramel are baked, usually covered with foil, but it's usually in a water bath. This water bath creates a gentler heat that produces steam inside the oven that is similar to steaming. 

4 All three are served chilled, but the leche flan and crème caramel are served upside down. 

All three custards need to be chilled overnight at least or until completely cold before any are served. This is an important step that ensures that the custard is not liquid and instead is a set and creamy consistency without the need for gelatin that is common in many no-bake desserts. 

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However, only the leche flan and the crème caramel are served upside down and out of its steaming and baking vessel. This is because both of these have a layer of caramelized sugar on the bottom of their containers that make each a self-saucing dessert. The caramelized sugar on the bottom melts and becomes a thin but delicious caramel sauce.

The crème brûlée is the only one of the three that is served still in its container. This matters in its final presentation.     

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5 The crème brûlée has a hard caramelized sugar layer on top.  

The biggest difference in looks between these three is the crème brûlée's topping. While all three have caramelized sugar on top, the crème brûlée has a hard shell, not a liquid one. It's not cooked with the caramelized sugar but instead, the custard is gently baked, covered, like the crème caramel, but without the sugar. 

To make a crème brûlée, the sugar is sprinkled on top in an even layer after it has chilled. A torch or flame is used to melt and caramelize the sugar right on top of the custard. When served, this hard shell is broken to reveal the creamy flan underneath and eaten with the shards of sugar for a drastic yet appealing textural contrast. (This is usually done right before it's served so the crystalized sugar is still hard.) 

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Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating. 

Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here.


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