Impossible chocolate flan cake

My obsession with flan can be traced back to a trip we took to Rio de Janeiro several years ago. We were ordering a morning juice at one of the city’s ubiquitous juice stands when I looked down into the window under the counter and saw a delicious flan sitting there, calling out to me. I had never tasted flan, but knew that I loved it.
Flan is popular all over Latin America, but it actually originated in Europe. European farmers would mix any extra eggs they had on hand with cream to make the custardy confection we call flan today. Mexico is especially well-known for its flan, with dozens of varieties that vary from one region to another.

It was in Mexico that I fell in love, again, with flan. It’s sometimes served in individual ramekins with burnt or carmelized sugar on the bottom, but the flan we had in Mexico was of the large, party-sized variety. The moment our pal at Glutton For Life mentioned the book My Sweet Mexico, I knew that there had to be a great flan recipe between its covers, and that I would have to make it.
The impossible chocolate flan mixes the luscious texture of flan with a soft layer of chocolate cake, and a layer of dulce de leche. Why impossible? Because it does a back flip in the oven.
The pan goes into the oven with the egg mixture floating on the top, and the chocolate cake mixture on the bottom. By the magic of the flan gods during the baking process, these two layers actually switch, and the pan comes out with the chocolate layer rising to the top, and the egg mixture sinking below. Impossible? No. Magic? You betcha!

impossible chocolate flan
From My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson

Serves 8 to 10

NOTE: I suggest you get your hands on a 9 ½ inch silicone cake pan, and make sure it is at least 2 inches deep. This is a big flan and a regular cake pan may not cut it. Also note that spring form pans do not always do well in water baths. Trust me.


1 cup cajeta or dulce de leche (see top right of this page)


3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch processed
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract


1 (12-oz.) can evaporated milk
1 (14-oz.) can condensed milk
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup coarsely chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 9 1/2 -inch diameter (2 inches deep) cake pan. 

Pour the cajeta over the bottom and sides of the cake pan using a brush or the back of a spoon (you can heat the cajeta very slightly in the microwave so that it is easier to spread).

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Make the Cake:

Combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and whisk until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, vegetable oil, egg, and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture, whisking until thoroughly combined. Pour the cake batter into the pan and set aside.

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Make the Flan:

Combine the evaporated milk, condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt in a blender and blend until there are no visible lumps. Pour gently over the cake batter.

Cover loosely with foil, place in a large baking dish, and fill the baking dish with hot water so that it comes halfway up the sides. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

 Remove the cake pan from the baking dish and allow to cool for at least 4 hours or refrigerate overnight. To unmold, lightly pass a warm knife around the edge, place a plate or dish on top, and carefully but rapidly flip over. Garnish with the toasted nuts. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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