Flan provides a cooling effect after a spicy Latin American meal. Flan consists of a creamy custard topped with sweet, gooey caramel. The caramel topping comes from heating sugar until it melts and turns brown. Caramelized sugar can burn quickly, so give your full attention to the procedure to successfully melt the white sugar to top your flan.
Measure the sugar into a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet. If your recipe calls for water to be cooked with the sugar, add that as well.
Turn a burner to medium-high heat and place the pan on it. Cook about five minutes, until you see the sugar begin to melt. If the sugar begins melting after only two or three minutes, turn the heat down to medium to avoid burning the sugar.
Continue cooking the sugar until it becomes liquid, then turns golden brown and emits a caramel smell. Occasionally swirl the pan or stir the sugar with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Caramelization should take about one to four minutes from the time the sugar becomes liquid -- but go by sight and smell, not time.
Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour the caramel into your flan mold. Tilt the pan to evenly cover the bottom and about halfway up the sides with caramel. Continue with your flan recipe.
Your sugar may appear to harden and turn crusty after it begins to melt, but it will become liquid as you continue cooking it.
Use a candy thermometer to more precisely measure when the sugar has caramelized; it should reach above 320 degrees Fahrenheit, but remain below 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The caramel will have deeper flavor and color if you heat it to a higher temperature.
Do not touch the hot caramel.
Watch the sugar carefully while it cooks; it can burn quickly after caramelizing.