Flan Pâtissier (French Custard Tart)

Vanilla bean-flecked pastry cream meets flaky pie crust in this take on a classic French pastry.

Overhead view of a slice of Flan Pâtissier

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

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. 

Overhead view of Flan Pâtissier

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. 

Sideview of Flan Pâtissier

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.

A fork on a plate next to a half eaten Flan Pâtissier

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Recipe Facts

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Chilling Time: 5 hrs
Total: 5 hrs 55 mins
Makes: 1 9 1/2-inch tart

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Ingredients

Directions

  1. Place dough on a generously floured work surface. Using a rolling pin and adding flour as needed underneath and on top of the dough to prevent sticking, roll out to a 13-inch circle. Transfer to a 9 1/2–inch tart pan by carefully rolling dough around the rolling pin, then unrolling over the pan. Press dough gently yet firmly into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Dust off flour with a pastry brush, then trim excess dough that extends past the rim of the pan. Transfer tart shell to a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate for 1 hour.

    Four Image collage of dough being rolled out, draped over a pie pan, formed into pan, and excess dough being removed from the top

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  2. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Scrape pastry cream into prepared tart shell and, using a small offset spatula, spread the filling in an even layer. Using a pastry brush, brush surface of pastry cream all over with egg yolks.

    Four Image collage of filling being added to crust, smoothed with an offset spatula, and covered in eg wash.

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  3. Bake flan until puffed and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes.

    Finished Flan Pâtissier

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  4. Set baking sheet with flan on a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer flan to the refrigerator and chill until filling is cold and firm, at least 4 hours but preferably 8 hours. Slice and serve.

    Side view of a slice of Flan Pâtissier

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rolling pin, small offset spatula, 9 1/2–inch tart pan with removable bottom, pastry brush

Notes

If you like, you can replace the pie dough with 1/2 recipe of pâte sucrée

You can use lemon or chocolate pastry cream in place of vanilla pastry cream. Flan pâtissier filled with lemon pastry cream is my personal favorite.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Flan pâtissier can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.