Is it only surface level, or are there other distinctions?
Silky smooth, sweet, rich custards are a sensual way to end a nice meal without being too heavy. Dessert custards all share something in common: a glossy, silken texture and lavish flavor. The difference between crème brûlée and flan (two of our favorite kinds of custard) lies in four factors: the ratio of ingredients, the manner in which the custard is thickened, the method of cooking, and any additional components. Those extra components—different toppings and presentation—are easiest to see.
The Balance of Eggs, Sugar, and Dairy
In custards, the proportion of eggs to sugar to dairy is critical, since texture and flavor hang in delicate balance. Eggs lend sturdiness, and the most opulent custard desserts contain only egg yolks. Sugar also affects texture: The more sugar in a custard, the less firm it will tend to be, and the longer it will take to set. And the amount of fat in your dairy, whether cream or milk, will affect the dessert’s level of richness.
Which Thickening Agent?
Custard is set in one of three different ways: with eggs, starch, or gelatin. Crème brûlée, pots de crème, and flan are thickened with egg; in contrast, pastry cream and American-style cheesecake often employ cornstarch or flour. Gelatin is used to add a gel-like consistency to Bavarian cream and most mousse recipes. And Mexican flan uses condensed milk and evaporated milk along with eggs.
Cooking and Serving Method
All custards are set using low, gentle heat. However, they fall into one of two categories: stirred (cooked on the stovetop) or baked (set in a water bath in the oven). Crème anglaise, pastry cream, mousse, and pudding are stirred; flan, crème brûlée, and pots de crème are baked. Custards can also be served at a wide range of temperatures: Serve crème anglaise warm, and it’s a sauce; freeze it and it becomes ice cream (and vice versa).
More elaborate custard desserts involve additional components, such as toppings or coatings. Crème brûlée contains a layer of hard caramelized sugar on top, achieved by melting sugar with a blowtorch; crème caramel is coated in a layer of soft caramel sauce before being turned out.
When it comes to crème brûlée and flan, it’s mostly the toppings that distinguishes the two, as well as the presentation. The former has that signature crackly sugar crust on top, and the latter has the gooey, soft caramel top. Crème brûlée is served within mini soufflé dishes, and flan is served out of the baking dish, standing alone. And it’s also the culture each dessert hails from: French and Latin American cuisines, respectively.
Try your hand at one or the other, or both, and don’t forget your spoon!
Article Source: https://www.chowhound.com/food-news/158647/creme-brulee-vs-flan-what-is-the-difference/