What is coconut flan?
Coconut flan (or flan de coco in French) is a traditional Gabonese dessert made from coconut milk, grated coconut, eggs, sugar and vanilla extract.
For the coconut flan to be perfect, the center of it must remain slightly wobbly. This version is different from the traditional flan, the addition of grated coconut gives it a slight biscuit texture that is soft at the same time.
Unlike other versions of coconut flan, the Gabonese recipe also does not contain sweetened condensed milk which changes both its visual appearance making it look like pastel de nata, as well as its texture. It also gives a less sweet and more digestible custard. This is a cheap and very quick recipe to prepare.
What is the origin of coconut flan?
Gabon was a former French colony between the middle of the 19th century and the middle of the 20th century. It was not until 1968 that Gabon was once again a free country. It was probably during this period that the flan was introduced to West Africa.
In France, the custard appears for the first time in the Middle Ages. It has since been widely distributed in the country and in all French-speaking countries.
However, the origin of the custard is uncertain. It is mentioned under the name of doucettys since 1399 in England where it was served at the coronation banquet of Henry IV. It is also found in Portugal under the name pastel de nata and in China under the name dàn tà. It was also popular in the 13th century in Italy under the name of crostata which would be derived from the French “”croûte”.
How to make coconut flan
To prepare a coconut flan, you need to mix all the ingredients together, but still keep a little sugar and grated coconut for the last step. It is best to use freshly grated coconut, which has a stronger flavor.
Once the mixture is well combined, it should be poured in small ramekins which will then be placed in a baking dish in which hot water is added to cook in a bain-marie (water bath). Baking lasts about twenty minutes in an oven heated to 350 F (170°C).
The ramekins should then cool in the oven, leaving the door open so that the temperature gradually drops and baking continues gently. Once cold, the custards can be sprinkled with a mixture of sugar and grated coconut and placed under the broiler for a few minutes until the sugar is brown. They are then eaten immediately.
The mixture of sugar and coconut on top does not turn into caramel like the traditional custard but rather forms a crust similar to that found on crèmes brûlées.
The coconut flan can also be prepared in a larger format to share and not in individual ramekins using a cake tin for example. It is then unmolded on a dish and cut into slices directly in front of the guests.
What are the variants?
The coconut flan can sometimes be flavored with grated lime zest, which is generally the case with the version prepared in the West Indies.
In France, the flan pâtissier has a thin layer of dough making it look like a pie.
In Indonesia, pai susu from Bali also has a dough crust, and condensed milk is used for its preparation.
Other countries are fond of custard, such as Romania, where alivenci is prepared, and South Africa, where melktert (milk tart) is popular. This dessert was also introduced in Africa by the colonists, this time the Afrikaners who came from Holland in the 17th century.
Coconut flan (flan de coco) is a popular Gabonese custard dessert, made from coconut, eggs, and sugar, is heavily influenced by French cuisine.
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup freshly grated coconut
- Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C).
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, eggs, 4 tablespoons of sugar, the vanilla extract, and half of the grated coconut.
- Divide this mixture between the four ramekins, then place into a deep baking dish (e.g. a lasagna dish). Pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake in the center of the oven for around 20 minutes, until the custard is set at the sides, with the center retaining a slight wobble.
- Turn off the heat, and leaving the door open, allow the custard to cool in the oven.
- Mix the remaining sugar and grated coconut together, and spoon equal amounts over the top of each custard.
- Brown under a hot oven broiler for around 3 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized.
- Serve immediately.