One secret ingredient is all it takes.
Caramel flan
Credit: Getty / alpaksoy

I love a molded custard like flan, crème caramel, and panna cotta. That wobble is everything—creamy rich goodness just set enough to barely hold its shape, usually with some rich sauce to accompany. It is a dessert that is rich enough for after dinner, but still eats light. You can keep it super simple and serve unadorned, but some whipped cream or fresh fruit never go amiss. In fact, there is only one thing wrong with these wiggly beauties. And that is that they are super fussy to make from scratch. Baking in water baths, hoping they don't separate, praying they set, and you don't end up with a bowl of custard sauce instead of a solid pudding. It's no wonder that they are a special occasion sort of dessert to make.

But while you cannot replicate them identically with a hack, you can use a shortcut to make a reasonable facsimile that is fast and easy, no baking required, and is certainly good enough for a weeknight indulgence.

The secret shortcut to fool-proof flan

The key? Leaning into an ingredient that provides the flavor, sweetness, and the set, all in one fell swoop. And that ingredient is marshmallows. These spongy treats contain sugar, vanilla flavor, and gelatin, making them the perfect shortcut to everyday faux flan. With this stovetop custard recipe that then sets in the fridge, you'll get just enough wobble, without all the kitchen complications. By melting marshmallows into your custard you get a mild vanilla flavor, and the gelatin will help it set up firm enough to slice without getting rubbery. 

How to make my faux flan

Ready to whip up a foolproof flan dessert simple enough for weeknights? Here's all you do! 

Easy Faux Flan

2/3 cup whole milk or half-and-half

1 16-ounce bag mini marshmallows (you can use large, but they take a lot longer to melt, and I am impatient)

8 large eggs, beaten, at room temperature (do not use cold eggs, as they will seize when you make the custard)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch salt

1/3 cup store bought caramel sauce, caramel syrup, or dulce de leche (optional)

1. If using the caramel, put it in the bottom of a nonstick loaf pan and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until it begins to shimmer around the edges. Add the marshmallows and stir constantly until they are completely melted.

3. Whisk two ladles full of the warm marshmallow into the eggs, beating fast, to temper them and warm them up.

4. Add the warmed egg mixture back into the pot slowly, whisking constantly, and then stir until the mixture is hot, but not bubbling. Stir in the vanilla and pinch of salt.

5. Pour through a colander (to catch any small bits of egg that might have congealed) into the prepared loaf pan and press a sheet of plastic wrap right on top to prevent a skin forming. Let cool to room temp, then transfer to the fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

6. To serve, unmold on a platter and slice, serve with more caramel if desired, fruit puree, whipped cream, or fresh fruit.