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Flan Pâtissier (French Custard Tart) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Pie dough makes for a tender, flaky crust that’s sturdy enough to support the pastry-cream filling.
  • Brushing the surface with egg yolk produces a glossy, deeply bronzed finish.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to use up a batch of pastry cream. Recently, my friend Sayo Yamagata opened her first bakery, Pâtisserie Ginko, in Paris’ 19th arrondissement. I was scrolling through the bakery’s Instagram when my eyes landed on a dreamy-looking slice of flan pâtissier―a vanilla bean-flecked custard baked in a crisp puff pastry shell. I’ve been to France several times (it’s where I met my husband), but I had yet to try it for myself. I called in some help and spoke with Ju Chamalo, the author of Mes Flan Pâtissiers, Brian Levy, the author of Good and Sweet, and Sayo herself to learn more about this classic French pastry. 

Flan pâtissier, also known as flan Parisien, or flan for short, is a traditional bakery staple. It is typically sold by the slice and enjoyed by children on their way home from school for “le goûter,” or snack time. During my recipe research, I watched video after video of French chefs like Dominique Ansel, Thierry Marx, and Christophe Michalak making flan pâtissier, each with their own approach. When I asked Chamalo and Sayo about this, Chamalo told me, “there is no perfect flan, everyone’s tastes are different.” Sayo, meanwhile, compared flan to pizza: It’s customizable, you can change up the filling, the crust, and even the pan you bake it in. Your ideal flan might be quite thick with chocolate custard and a tender pâte sucrée crust, whereas I like mine with a thin layer of vanilla pastry cream in a buttery, flaky pie crust. Flan variations, like pizza, are limitless. 

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Traditionally, flan pâtissier is filled with vanilla pastry cream. Although it isn’t the only version out there (I recommend scrolling through Chamalo’s Instagram for inspiration), it is by far the most common. At home, I made ones with pastry creams flavored with vanilla, lemon, and chocolate. I personally adored the one flavored with lemon, but my husband and two kids couldn’t get enough of the vanilla flan, which is also Chamalo’s favorite. My recipe below calls for vanilla pastry cream but you can easily replace it with an equal amount of lemon pastry cream or any other flavor you want. It’s important to make sure your pastry cream is cold or at room temperature when spreading it into the pastry shell—Chamalo warned me that if the filling is hot, it’s more likely to overflow during baking. 

Just like the filling, there are many options for the crust. The most popular ones are pâte sucrée and puff pastry (Chamalo uses the former in his recipe while Sayo sticks with the latter at the bakery). You can also use pie crust (a tip I received from Levy, whose version relies on an enriched pie dough), gâteau Basque dough, croissant dough, or even go without for a crustless version. In my testing, the pâte sucrée had a harder time standing up to the rich filling, producing an overall texture that was too soft (although, you could tinker with the pâte sucrée recipe to make it more sturdy). A version with puff pastry, on the other hand, was great but I knew I could produce a similar effect with pie crust. I turned to Stella’s extra-flaky pie crust recipe, which baked up tender and crisp and contrasted well with the creamy filling. 

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As for the size and shape, I tried baking the flan in a ring mold and a pie pan with larger ratios of filling to crust, but found that the filling overwhelmed the crust in those versions. After rounds of testing, I decided to shape my flan in a tart pan since it yielded a roughly two-to-one ratio of filling to crust that I much preferred; plus it forms a nicely-fluted edge. If you prefer your flan quite thick, you can double the amount of pastry cream and bake it in a ring mold or springform pan. 

Once assembled, I like to brush the surface with egg yolks to create an evenly-colored burnished finish on top. After baking, you’ll need to exercise some willpower by waiting for it to cool to room temperature and then chilling it in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. When it’s ready, slice it up and eat it out of hand as a snack, just like a kid coming home from school.

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

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