Ask Cynthia a Question – February 25, 2014

Marie asked: What’s the difference between flan, custard, pudding, panna cotta, creme brulee, and other milk or cream based desserts?

cream based dessertMy answer: All are similar in that they’re cooked together with milk, cream, sugar, eggs and/or a thickener; their ingredients and the process in which they’re cooked varies, which gives them a different name. Some are just in a language other than English, such as panna cotta translated means “cooked cream.” Flan and baked custard are similar because they’re both baked in a container and then flipped out of their baking containers to serve. Mexican flan is denser than Spanish flan; some flan has a crust, while others do not. Regular custard is cooked and then put into serving dishes like pudding. Chocolate Pots de Crème is simply a fancy name for chocolate pudding served in tiny “pots” or teacups.

Richness varies whether milk, cream or eggs are used. The addition of fruit (as in this week’s recipe) or flavoring completely changes the dessert. My recipe for Pumpkin Flan with Orange Zest from last October is a delicious and healthy example of adding fruit to custard.

Zabaglione, lemon curd and sometimes tiramisu are in this “dessert group.” The origin of pudding is French. Cornstarch or gelatin can replace eggs as a thickener. What’s Cooking America goes into detail and gives recipes for each of the pudding/custard type desserts. This historical site about cream based desserts will captivate you for hours: Origin of cream based desserts. Thank you for your question, Marie!

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