cake / dessert Filipino

Kalabasa Leche Flan (Pumpkin Custard Flan Dessert)

Monday, June 30, 2014Enz F

There are oral beliefs and traditions suggesting that egg whites were used as ingredients in the building materials for the construction of churches, cemeteries, monuments and other architectural structures in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era way back in the 15th to 18th centuries. The long-standing Catholic basilicas with Byzantine and Romanesque inspirations can mostly be found in the Northern provinces of Luzon and in many areas of the Visayas, and still serve as giant architectures of our solid cultural heritage. One example of which is the famous Baclayon Church (patron saint, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception) in Bohol built around 1700s and declared as a Philippine National Historic Treasure in 1995 due to its cultural and historical value. The church was framed and founded from coral stones which were banded into blocks with the mixture of lime, sand and egg whites. When the massive 7.2-magnitude earthquake ravaged the Visayas in October 2013, the chuch's outer facade was heavily damaged and its bell tower was shattered. Due to the onslaught of the eartquake, the Philippine government has since initially allocated upto Php 650M for the restoration and rehabilitation of the destroyed old churches and other historical landmarks. Meanwhile, hundreds of others still exist and remain steadfast up to this day, withstanding calamities and wars.

The birth of the many egg yolk-based desserts in the Philippines can be traced back during the Spanish Era.
Baclayon Church was built in Bohol around 1700s. Declared as Philippine National Historic Treasure in 1995, it was one of the prominent Roman Catholic architectures built during Spanish Regime that was severely damaged by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that took place in Visayas Region on October 2013. (Photo Credit: Filipino BookJoel Francisco Photography and Weddings at Work
Albumin, the runny liquid surrounding the yolk, contains adhesive proteins, mainly ovalbumin. The egg whites, separated from the egg yolks, were believed to be an important constructive mortar component in binding sand, rocks, lime, water and other building materials. Some accounts also state that these could have also been used as paint emulsifier and “paletada”, the thin outer covering finish of the wall that serves as protection from the water and elements. When millions of eggs from chicken and other poultry were solicited from barrios and communities for the erection of Spanish edifices and churches, there were enormous amount of egg yolks that could have been put into waste. Since being ingenuous and creative is inherent to Filipinos, they devised a way to reinvent and make useful of these countless leftover fattiest portion of the eggs. Hence, the birth of our famous Filipino egg yolk-based sweets and desserts – yema (custard candy), pastillas de leche (soft milk bars) and leche flan (Filipino crème caramel), among others – which also have Spanish roots.

Originating from the France-Spain borders and introduced in the Philippines by the Spaniards, Leche Flan or Flan de Leche (“leche” being a Spanish term for milk) is one of our most well-celebrated Filipino desserts. It is a popular sweet meal course customarily layered with rich caramel syrup and served during festivities and other special occasions. It could also make good toppings for other desserts like halo-halo (Filipino hodge-podge dessert), chiffon cake and even ice cream. 

Traditionally, egg yolks were mixed with fresh cow’s or goat’s milk and sugar, and cooked in a wooden steamer since baking oven was not known to Filipinos during the early times. Modern leche flans nowadays, however, can be made using the whole eggs and substituting fresh milk with condensed milk, and can be cooked inside the oven using banyo maria or bain marie method or more popularly known as heated water bath cooking technique. Other variations of flan has also continued to emerge – from the addition of fruits like mango or peaches, and other setting agents like agar-agar, potatoes and pumpkins, to lactose-free version (only egg yolks and sugar). 

Leche flan was traditionally cooked in steamer or double broiler, when electric oven is not yet a mainstream in the Philippine kitchens.
A couple of days ago, we had a leftover of huge overripe kalabasa (pumpkin) at home (the size of a basketball) and we could not find a way how we can make it into a different dish. Since many of us have already grown tired of the usual ginisang kalabasa (stir-fried pumpkin) and ginataang kalabasa (pumpkin coconut curry), why not turn it into dessert, and so, leche flan got into me. Kalabasa Leche Flan, indeed. Pumpkin Custard Flan Dessert, as it is also called, is prepared and cooked the usual way just like the ordinary Filipino caramel flan. I pureed the kalabasa, as fine as it could get, mixed with eggs and milk, filtered the mixture in a sieve for a finer texture, divided them on llaneras or tin molds and steamed in my old-fashioned stainless double broiler. The next day after that, the entire household were already enjoying a rich and healthy caramel-topped pumpkin flan. I was not able to utilize the entire pumpkin because it was too big for my available cans of milk so I had no choice but to sauté the other half for dinner. At least my saturation for the same old pumpkin dish was reduced by half and my sweet tooth was again, jumping a thousand fold in delight! 

From the great walls of our architectural pride to the finicky Filipino palate, here is the continuation of the story of our centuries-old leche flan. 
Kalabasa Leche Flan (Pumpkin Custard Flan Dessert)
Yields 6-8 medium-sized (6x3x1-inch) tin molds 

  • 2-3 cups fresh kalabasa (pumpkin), peeled and chopped 
  • 2 cans (600 mL) condensed milk 
  • 1 can (380 mL) evaporated milk 
  • 5 egg yolks 
  • 3 whole eggs 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon powder or vanilla extract 
  • 1½ cup sugar 
  • ¾ cup water 
  • 1 tsp. calamansi lime juice 

  1. Combine the water, calamansi lime juice and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. 
  2. Lower the heat to simmer and let the sugar dissolve on its own. Do not stir. Tilt the pan to spread out the liquid. Turn off the heat when the color begins to turn amber and the syrup thickens into honey-like consistency. 
  3. Pour about three tablespoons of the warm caramelized sugar into each llanera or tin molds and tilt to evenly coat the bottom. This should be done quickly as the caramel will begin to harden as it cools. Set aside. 
  4. Boil the chopped pumpkins for 20 minutes or until soft. Drain the cooked pumpkin and mash using a potato grinder or puree in a food processor or blender. This should yield 2 cups of pureed pumpkin. Set aside to cool. 
  5. In a saucepan, combine the condensed and evaporated milk. Set on a very low heat just enough to make the mixture warm. Do not simmer. 
  6. In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and cinnamon or vanilla. 
  7. Gradually fold in half of the warm milk into the egg mixture. This will temper the egg and will prevent it from curdling. 
  8. Fold in the pumpkin the remaining milk and gradually stir to remove the lumps and lessen the thickness of the puree. 
  9. Gradually fold in the pumpkin mixture over the egg mixture. Slowly stir in a circular motion just enough to combine. Do not beat. 
  10. Slowly pour the custard mixture in a fine sieve or strainer to filter and smoothen the liquid, carefully avoiding air bubbles to form. 
  11. Ladle the mixture in individual llaneras or tin molds lined with caramel syrup. Cover the top with aluminum foils. Place in a steamer or double broiler and steam for 20 to 35 minutes. Test the doneness of the flan by poking a wooden toothpick at the middle. It is done if the stick comes out almost clean. 
  12. Remove the cooked pumpkin custard from the steamer and allow to cool at room temperature. Refrigerate to chill overnight to allow the flan to set completely. 
  13. Run a knife around the edge of the custard to loosen it from the mold. Carefully invert the mold on the plate to transfer the content. The custard should fall off easily on the plate and liquefied caramel syrup should run down the sides. Top with fruit jam or serve plain. Enjoy! 

  1. You may need first to fold half of the milk mixture into the blended pumpkin (do not skip this process) to lessen the viscosity of the puree before slowly adding it into eggs. This will also prevent the eggs from being stiff as heavy beating or mixing may cause air bubbles to form. 
  2. Do not overcook as it may cause the flan to become watery and not set properly even when cooled. 
  3. You may also use small molds or any heat-proof ramekins as container for the flans.

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  1. hi interesting article. i would like to point out that the eggs being added with the palitada and mortar mixture is not in a 1 is to 1 ratio. meaning they could have not collected millions of eggs just to build the old structures. mortar or palitada is a mixture of lime and aggregates (sand) and the eggs would serve only as an additive not a main ingredient =)

  2. Hello, great dish. I don't know where you're based at, but when you say pumpkin, do you mean the pumpkin that we, here in the States, use as decor during Halloween? It's a squash alright but I never heard it stir-fried nr used it in ginataan, like you did, and make it into a vegetable side dish. Here, it always almost always used in dessert dishes. Maybe you are referring to the acorn or kabucha kind. Or, is it the calabaza that is common in the Philippines? If it's the common calabaza, then that should not be identified as pumpkin. Thank you.


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