Is there a hype around the flan?
Reading time: 5 mins
While the first edition of the Meilleur flan pâtissier was held in Lyon on April 10, this French dessert is more than ever on the rise. Sometimes compared to the Portuguese pastel de nata, its little vanilla taste is nevertheless incomparable, to the point of making some sweet tooth want to find THE best flan.
So, if there really is a “flan mania”, wouldn’t it be time to ask what the popularity of this French pastry classic is due to?
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The flan, a must in pastry
The pastry flan alone embodies something of a return to childhood. Already present in the Middle Ages, it has gone through the ages without losing its aura. For Mori Yoshida, a pastry chef whose flan is constantly in the rankings of amateurs, “the flan is a classic pastry cake”.
Giovanni Bianco, whose flan was voted “best flan in Paris and Île-de-France” in 2019, goes even further: “A bakery without flan is a bit odd in my opinion. This is the easiest dessert to make. With four ingredients, a saucepan and a whisk you can do it. […] It is necessary to attract the customer with products that he knows, which he immediately spots when passing in front of the shop. And the flan is a flagship product of bakery-pastry.”
If the flan is a dessert “easy to do”, this could explain why everyone is grabbing it, from the amateur to the professional. In addition, the apparent simplicity of its preparation allows bakeries and pastry shops to take advantage of a universal recipe, to appropriate it as efficiently as possible.
For Giovanni Bianco, the popularity of the flan is also due to its very identified DNA: “Today, it’s been four years since the flan returned to center stage. It’s not about to stop, because there have been a thousand possible variations, but the vanilla recipe is and will remain the most authentic in people’s eyes. Consumers need to identify themselves before trying variations made by starred chefs.”
A dessert accessible to all levels
It’s a fact, the flan is a simple dessert in all respects, starting with its preparation. For Ju Chamalo, author of My pastry flans, “It is also very ‘accessible’ to make at home, because a flan is mainly made up of milk, cream, eggs, sugar and starch (corn or potato). Normally, these are ingredients that we have in our kitchen.
Where Ju Chamalo praises the comfort of smoothness and creaminess, pastry chef Mori Yoshida evokes its ease of preparation: “I would say it’s such a simple recipe that you rarely mess it up.”
This is perhaps the reason why all bakeries are also trying to offer their version. According to Giovanni Bianco, “with the éclair, the flan remains accessible in all bakeries. The great pastry chefs today feel the need to appropriate this product by making it expensive, which I find incredible. They justify the price by their notoriety, but they forget the very essence of this product: simplicity. Milk, cream and eggs are affordable products. They manage to charge a very high price for a product that costs them almost nothing.”
An accessible product, not always sold as such, which nevertheless remains according to Mori Yoshida “appreciated by all ages, at any time of the day, in the morning for breakfast or at tea time”. Because yes, the taste of the original flan remains a universal taste, often not very divisive, which is not without titillating the child who slumbers in us: “I think people subconsciously seek a slice of nostalgia when they take a slice of flan”adds Giovanni Bianco.
Just imagine tasting your best slice of flan when you leave school to realize that what makes this dessert accessible is also due to the ease with which it is eaten. With so many elements in its favour, it therefore seems quite legitimate that the flan has a place of choice on the shelves of bakeries and pastry shops.
A safe bet in pastries
Giovanni Bianco, owner of the eponymous bakery in Paris, announces it straight away: “In my case, the flan competition was a real activity booster, I knew how to take advantage of it.” It must be said that today, the growing interest in this seemingly simple dessert allows bakeries to reinvent themselves or enhance a traditional recipe.
For his part, Mori Yoshida affirms it: “I have never changed the flan recipe since the store opened ten years ago. I am convinced that the current recipe that I have developed in search of a universal taste is the best of my life.
Giovanni Bianco evokes the flan as a way of surpassing oneself, by selecting the most qualitative ingredients. Because, as we know, on the other side of the shop, it’s all about work: “We put a product even more forward thanks to the flan: vanilla. There are incredible qualities of vanilla these days that make it possible to sublimate the product.”
Pastry chefs have a boulevard in front of them, but the accessibility of flan has managed to contaminate other areas, as Giovanni Bianco points out: “Around the flan, he first set up a competition, with the union of bakers of Greater Paris. Then came social media with Instagram and flan tester influencers.”
Social networks: in the land of flan
“With the rise of social networks, the flan has taken a good place in terms of image”, says Ju Chamalo, whose Instagram account is currently followed by nearly 66,400 people. And if the dessert has contributed to making tasting and comparison a genre in its own right on social networks, the latter are also relay tools for professionals.
Ju Chamalo to add: “For me, the flan has always been a safe bet in bakeries, but in recent years it has been brought up to date by certain pastry chefs and even by great palace chefs who are now highly publicized and followed on the social media.”
Mori Yoshida, whose Instagram account is now followed by almost 63,000 people, confirms that in the promotion of know-how, the internet has changed the profession: “Six months after the opening [de sa pâtisserie, ndlr], Mr. Michalak posted a photo of my flan on Instagram with a very favorable comment, even though we had never met. This sparked flan’s popularity with us.”
An example that testifies to the concrete impact that social networks can have in the interest that one could have for flan. But can we really say that it is a “trend” food? Ju Chamalo nuance: “I don’t think, trends or fashions are fleeting, the flan has always been present and appreciated in my opinion. It has just been brought up to date!”
Giovanni Bianco, if he sees the flan as an essential recipe, seems, for his part, to sense a certain “hype”: “I think that the flan is on the rise, and that it will last, because it is timeless in France. Everyone knows what it is, and is curious to taste it.”
All that remains is to (re)form an opinion on the matter by opening the door of the nearest pastry shop!
Giovanni Bianco, 49, rue Chardon Lagache 75016 Paris
Mori Yoshida, 65, avenue de Breteuil 75007 Paris
My pastry flansJu Chamalo, Aimery Chemin, La Martinière, March 2022