CARAMEL ESPRESSO FLAN/BUTTER ROUX CAKE

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THE CAKE HAS VENTURED BEYOND CHEMISTRY, INTO THE REALM OF PHYSICS…

EVERY time I unearth a truly fantastic recipe out of the landslides of materials and inspirations that bury most of my time nowadays, regardless whether it is original or reinvented, I experience a flush of anxiety which I’d like to call the competitive blogging disorder.  Symptoms include increasing heart-rates and twitching ankles, a not-exactly-little voice inside my ill-motivated head saying things that don’t exactly reflect my best, generous self.

Things like, gah I hope I’m one of the few living bodies on earth who know about his.  Gah I must publish this recipe now, like right now!, like in any given second somebody else might hijack my discovery.  Gah I hope when I Google “flan cake”, nothing, and I mean nothing… in the English-speaking world at least, would show up on the first page.

But of course, like most of my wishes nowadays, the answers from God-gle, are usually negative.

When I stumbled on an Asian baking-blog by accident last week, and discovered something called the “flan cake”, I thought ding-ding-ding!  I mean after all, it isn’t everyday that I look upon a cake-recipe that has ventured beyond chemistry, into the realm… of great physics.  A cake with two distinctively different layers that bake simultaneously, but magically self-separates.  A cake that bakes on the laws of physics, that lighter mass in weight (in this case, the sponge cake-batter), will float above denser mass (in this case, the flan custard), and that there’s nothing you can do to sabotage it.  It’s not just a failsafe cake.  It’s an anti-fail cake.  Guaranteed by science.  How could I not be excited?

But of course as it turns out, like all other great ideas, God-gle already knew a few.  Fuck.

BUT again, a closer look into all the flan-cake recipes shown up on the research, my CBD relapsed.  Not only that most of these recipes uses a cake-premix, but even the ones that don’t, involves the dull and tiresome sponge cake-method of using vegetable oil or creaming butter.  Gah, I’m back!  I could still be the first second third… number of handful people to tell you about this, ahem, fucking awesome cake.  Because. the true genius of this particular flan-cake lies not only on the magic of the two self-separating layers of flan and sponge cake, but also on the miraculous outcome of a butter-roux cake batter.  Yes, a roux cake.  The combination of the two wonders, a cocktail of miracles, from what I can tell, is still a relatively under-exposed secret.

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What’s my problem with creaming butter?  I think it’s pretty obvious so far, from the past few recipes like this cookie and that cookie, that I would strangle my best friend if it means I could evade creaming butter.  I hate, creaming butter.  I wish I could tell you why.  Among all the hideous tasks that could drive a kitchen-control-freak into madness, like an entire section on it’s-God’s-way-of-telling-me-I-have-too-much-time, or the common enemy of impatience like weighing/par-baking pie-crusts, I somehow, for reasons beyond myself, have the thickest beef with creaming butter.  Perhaps the neighbor’s kid didn’t want to share his sandbox with me.  I dunno.  My shrink says I need to work on that.

But before pharmaceutical company could come up with baker’s prozac to combat kitchen-laziness, this unfortunate mental blockade mean, more often than not, a compromise on the final texture of the end-product.  As so many professional bakers have stressed on the importance between proper butter-creaming and “fluffiness”, harassing us defected amateur-bakers with the fear of a “dense” cake, I for one, feel very bullied all the time.  Cream, or die.  Cream, or die…

Then this butter-roux cake arose out my baking-shortcoming and said, enough!  There’s another way!  Without creaming butter and sugar, the recipe melts the butter in 1 min which then cooks the flour in another.  Yeah like making a roux.  Then milk, egg yolks and sugar is simply whisked into the mix to create a thick, sticky base which then is lightened up by folded beaten egg whites.  The roux somehow increases the moisture the flour can hold and retain, and the result is miraculously cotton-y, moist, and almost airy cheesecake-textured crumbs.

Well, see… that’s the other thing.  One might presume that the purity of a creamy and supple espresso-custard bathed in the caramel-syrup it’s baked in (aka flan), is perfectly enough on its own, that just because there’s now a layer of sponge cake stuck to its butt, does not mean it scores greater than the sum of its parts.  That it is possibly, an overkill.  But I assure you, it’s not.  The moist crumbs soak in and absorb the wondering caramel-syrup which would otherwise run wasted, and become something entirely different.  The combination of the espresso flan and the caramel-soaked sponge cake would strike you more on the side of… tiramisu than cake.  Wetter.  Custardy-er.  Better.

I believe that the last word has just hit the limit of my self-constraint, on not just shouting “who gives a shit just make this damn awesome cake NOW!” right at the beginning.  I’m sorry.  That was just my CBD talking.  Please kindly make this fabulous cake at your earliest convenience.

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Make:  One 8″ round cake

The way that the sponge cake-batter separates/floats from the custard layer, is truly magical.  Even if it seems to “sink” when poured over the top of the custard, don’t worry!  They will separate!  And the “roux” method, truly makes this the softest, and moistest sponge cake I’ve ever tasted.

This cake is ever-versatile.  If you don’t want coffee flavour, you can simple omit the ground espresso and flavour the custard with vanilla or whatever you fancy.  In fact, I ran out of vanilla extract for the cake, and used 1 tsp of Amarula liquor instead.  Still fantastic.  While most cakes get dehydrated over time, this cake only gets better and ever-so-moist as the sponge (duh!) cake layer absorbs the caramel juice that’s collected at the bottom of the cake.  If “absorbing caramel juice” doesn’t make you happy, there’s no hope for you.

Unless you trust your cake-pan to be absolutely non-stick, I would strongly recommend to lightly oil the entire pan plus parchment-line the part where it’s in contact with the sponge cake batter (instruction below).


Ingredients:  based on a recipe from here

  • Caramel:
    • 1/2 cup (100 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 2 tbsp (30 grams) of water
  • Espresso flan/custard:
    • 1 1/2 cup (363 grams) of half-half
    • 3 tbsp (15 grams) of ground espresso beans
    • 4 large egg yolks + 2 large whole eggs
    • 1/3 cup (98 grams) of sweetened condensed milk
  • Butter-roux sponge cake:
    • 4 1/2 tbsp (60 grams) of unsalted butter
    • 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp (50 grams) of all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 cup (61 grams) of whole milk
    • 3 tbsp (35 grams) of light brown sugar
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
    • 4 large egg whites + 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar (optional)

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To preheat the oven:  Place a large baking-dish/sheet (large enough to hold the cake-pan) that’s at least 2″-deep inside the oven, and pour 1″ of water inside.  Turn the oven on 400ºF/200ºC and close the oven.

To make the caramel:  Lightly oil the interior of a 8″ round cake-pan, set aside.  Cook granulated sugar and water in a medium-size pot (this is the same pot we’re gonna use throughout the recipe) over medium heat, and bring it to a boil.  Gently swirling the pot, and cook until the sugar turns light brown in color.  At this point, turn off the heat and keep swirling.  The sugar will continue to darken into a deep, amber-color (if not residual heat is left, return the pot to medium heat for a bit).  Pour all the caramel into the cake-pan (a thin layer may be left inside the pot), and quickly swirl the pan to distribute an even layer of caramel on the bottom before it hardens (if it hardens too quickly, warm the bottom of the cake-pan over low heat).  Set the cake-pan aside.

To make the espresso flan/custard:  Dip the bottom of the pot in cold water to cool down.  Add the half-half and ground espresso beans, and return to medium heat.  Stir gently with a wooden spoon and bring to a bare simmer, then turn off the heat completely (the leftover caramel should melt back into the cream).  Let it brew for 5 min.  Meanwhile, whisk 4 large yolks, 2 large eggs and sweetened condensed milk together in another bowl until smooth.  Slowly pour the espresso cream, through a very fine sieve, into the egg-mixture.  Whisk quickly to combine.  Discard the ground espresso in the sieve, then pour the espresso/egg-custard into the cake-pan, through the same sieve again.

Cut a thin strip of parchment paper, lightly oil one side and line the inside of the cake-pan just above the custard.  Then set aside.

To make the roux sponge cake:  Wash the same pot clean and towel dry (use another pot if you prefer).   Cook the unsalted butter over medium-high heat until melted and starts to bubble.  Add the all-purpose flour and whisk quickly until even, then turn off the heat.  Add the whole milk and light brown sugar and whisk until the sugar has melted.  The cold milk and sugar should’ve cooled the roux enough so it doesn’t cook the egg yolk.  Now add the egg yolks and vanilla extract, and whisk until thick and even.  Beat the egg white with 1/2 tsp of cream of tartar with a stand-mixer or handheld-mixer, until soft peaks form.

Add 1/2 of the beaten egg whites into the roux/egg yolk-mixture, and stir gently until evenly combined.  Then add the rest of the egg whites, and instead of stirring, gently fold it into the mixture with a spatula until even.  Pour the cake batter into the cake-pan.  Don’t freak out if it seems to sink to the bottom through the custard!  It will float back up because the batter is lighter than the custard!  Smooth the top, and we’re ready to bake.

To bake the cake:  Carefully place the cake-pan in the middle of the deep baking-sheet with water (which is hot by now).  Lower the temperature down to 340ºF/170ºC, and bake for 50 ~ 55 min.  A wooden skewer should come out completely clean from the center of the cake.  Let the cake cool for 30 min on a cooling rack.  Then gently pull away the parchment paper, and score the bottom-sides of the cake-pan (where it touches the flan) with a small knife.  Place a large plate, up-side down over the cake-pan, then quickly invert it.  Remove the cake-pan, and the cake should come out effortlessly.

If there’s a layer of caramel on the bottom of the pan that’s too thick to pour out, add 1 tsp of water and warm over low heat until the caramel’s loose again.  Pour over the cake.  The cake gets better with time as the sponge cake absorbs the caramel and…. urgh!  I can’t even…

45 Comments

  • I clicked on the Asian baking blog you mentioned and now I’m so envious that you can read Chinese! My Japanese skills are sad and mostly faded by now; I wish I would have stuck with them, and I won’t pretend food-related stuff has nothing to do with it!

    Another amazing dish! Wish I could take a big bite!

    http://thatumamilife.wordpress.com – a clean eating bento blog. Japanese or Asian-inspired!

  • In my opinion, your recipes are always unique! I often come to your site and think “what in the what now??? PINNED!” But I understand how you feel. The internet is overwhelming. Anyway, this is another recipe is looks totally awesome!! Love it! xx

  • I’m pretty new to your blog, but every time I see a new post I just wonder how it is even going to get better. Once again gah! Amazing! never knew someone could think like this!

  • If I had not eaten so much for dinner AND if I was vertical not horizontal I would be making this right bloody well now.
    It looks so so so so amazingly good.
    Thank you, oh inspirational one!

  • What. Actually what. What is this sorcery. How is this possible? I want to make this so fast that I want to leave work early so I can do it, that’s how amazed I am. I know that melted butter helps to make cakes more dense/moist, but seriously, how does this happen?!

  • This looks amazing and I’m dying to make it. But just so I’m clear. A parchment paper is layered over the custard, then the cake batter is poured over the paper, correct? So where does the paper go during the baking process? Does it float to the top? Sorry, this just blows my mind! Thanks!

    • JADEN: NO, the parchment is for the SIDE of the cake-pan, not the bottom or top. So you cut a strip of parchment, and rub it with a bit of oil to help it stick, then you line the SIDES of the cake-pan. You pour the caramel to the bottom of the pan (no parchment), then the custard, then the cake batter. Let me know if this makes sense. :)

  • Amazing creation!! Have you tried refrigerating it and serving it the next day? I would imagine the flavors would meld together and the top of the flan could even be brûléed!

  • Hi Mandy, this looks fabulous!! Looking forward to the next party where I can try it out! Question though: What’s the point of scoring the sponge on the bottom before you invert it?

    • MELISSSA: Oh, I meant scoring the SIDES OF THE CAKE PAN close to the bottom of the cake (not the cake itself!), just to make sure the flan-part of the cake is released from the cake pan (and you’ll see caramel sauce oozing up from the bottom).

  • There is Mexican cake called Chocoflan that uses exactly the same baking technique. But the cake part is more like a brownie, yours seems to be lighter in texture. Will definitely try your recipe, thanks for sharing!

  • Holy god. This looks and sounds terrific. As a fellow food blogger, I totally know what you mean. Google makes me sad that I`m not the only “special” person who came up with just about the coolest idea, yet. HAHA.

    But, seriously, this cake…it`s magnificent.

  • I baked this for work a few weeks ago. It was devine! Also so much fun when making it – the layering effect amused by little mind :D

  • Yes, so this is it! I am restraining myself right now NOT to make this. Tomorrow there will surely be a better time (than 3 at night). Would you be so kind to tell me what I could use instead of half and half? I don’t even know what that is, I had to google it… I think I will use whole milk for the sweetened condensed milk too because, siiiigh, they don’t sell it where I live. What I have on hand is; clotted cream (kaymak), whole milk and whipping cream. Can we make this work? Please say yes.

    • IRMA: OF COURSE! hahaaha “half-half” just means 50% whole milk and 50% heavy/whipping cream! So you can definitely do it with whipping cream and whole milk (if you only use whole milk, the custard will be less creamy).

  • I made this today! Interestingly – for me, because I have a history of flan flops – the flan part was splendid. Very yummy too. Alas somewhere between the roux (my roux was so solid!) and mixing the first part of the egg whites it went wrong for me. So the cake part didn’t come out as yours. Which was expected by the look of my batter; dense, a very small amount and overall wrong. Of course it didn’t rise. It didn’t even cover the entirety of the flan :)
    My heart sank a little but no one complained (except me, but I’m always complaining about what could have been better so that doesn’t count), so hooray!
    Just one thing, do you think I could make this the way YOU don’t like it, creaming the butter way? I will definitely try this again and I want it to be perfect this time but I’m afraid of this roux thing. It’s haunting me! Hahaha.

    • IRMA: You can try a different type of sponge cake if you’re more comfortable with it. But the key is that it has to be a “sponge” cake batter, with a lot of air and bubbles (from the beaten egg whites) that allow the batter to “float” on top of the flan. I hope you have better luck next time! This cake is worth it :)

  • I made this cake today and it came out great! It looked just like the photo. The layers separated perfectly. The one major problem I had was with making the caramel. I tried three times and could never get it right. In hindsight, I think maybe the pot was too big. I doubled the recipe, so I was using a large pot. I think it was too hot in the center and too cold at the edges. Fortunately, my sister had some leftover caramel we were able to use. Then the rest of the cake came together really smoothly. Instead of espresso flavor, I used Thai tea, which I thought tasted very nice. This cake is not very sweet, which is a good thing. It has a light texture and flavor. It was one of those unusual cakes that everyone liked, but some people really really loved and others found a little odd, but still nice to eat. My brother who isn’t really into sweets asked for seconds, and we were all amazed because he never does that. There are a lot of steps to this recipe, but it isn’t hard. Thanks for the recipe!

  • i do a similar cake with regular flan that has lemon rind in it and the cake is chocolate with lemon and orange rind. Use powdered milk for the flan and regular chocolate cake. No need for paper as it goes up and a bit in but guess it doesn’t harm to add it. I let it cool completely then cling film it and put in the fridge for two days. ( dessert out of the way when having a party)
    Take it out half an hour or so before serving. Invert unto a plate that has edges to collect the caramel.
    Will try yours for sure.

  • Made this for hubby birthday, he loves cream caramel. Both me and my hubby are professional chefs this recipe is amazing!!!!!
    We threw a dinner party and this was the star of the night. Thank you for sharing.

  • this looks so delicious. i’m going to give it a try. But im a little confused about the parchment paper. why is that needed? and should the parchment paper strip stick outside the pan?

    • Nini: The parchment lines the inside part of the pan where the cake batter is going to be, because the cake may stick to the pan, and give you trouble when you try to remove it. Does that make sense?

  • Looks amazing! But I was wondering… If I wanted to make just the flan part, would that alter the baking time? And what about just the flan part but doubling the amount? Thank you!

    • Annie, of course you can just make the flan part, but I dunno how long it will take to bake to double it… You’ll have to do a test run yourself. Let us know if you do!

  • Why do you feel the need to use F### in your comments? Everything you said in your comments was helpful and then the F bombs. The old folks used to say hat if a person has to resort to profanity they feel they are not as powerful without them. Just a point to ponder. The recipe looks awesome and can’t wait to try it, thanks so much for the post.

  • I just stumble across this website and your food looks amazing!! Can you tell me what is “half-half” in your custard recipe?

  • Fantastic recipe! The layers separated perfectly, the cake was delicately moist, and best of all it wasn’t too sweet of a dessert. My cake finished baking within 40 mins and thoroughly consumed next day. I’m tempted to make the roux cake on it’s own next time, as I too hate the creaming step. Thanks again Mandy!

  • This cake looks absolutely RIDICULOUS, in the best possible way imaginable. You may not have been the first person to ever discover this mysteriously simple combination but you’re definitely the first to show it to me, so I commend you for that. A scoop of coffee ice cream on the side is the only thing I could imagine that would make this any more dreamy.

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