Bittman’s Dairy-Free Flan is a Decadent No Bake Dessert


Over a decade ago, Mark Bittman shared his wonderful dairy-free flan recipe with us. It’s from his classic 500-recipe collection, The Food Matters CookbookUnlike most Mexican-style flan recipes, this is a no bake, no dairy, and no egg version. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’re giving this dessert post an update, and adding some much-needed tips!

Bittman's Dairy-Free Flan Recipe - No Bake, No Dairy, No Eggs and Vegan Optional

Bittman’s Dairy-Free Flan is a Decadent No Bake Dessert

Over the years, some of you had a little trouble with the caramel in this dairy-free flan recipe. Indeed, caramel can be tricky! Here are some tips to help ensure the best results.

  • This recipe uses a “wet caramel,” which uses water and is less finicky and less likely to burn than a “dry caramel,” which is made purely with sugar. Bittman takes a low and slow cooking approach, so make sure it reaches the desired color and begins to caramelize before removing it from the heat.
  • The caramel sauce will thicken as it cools. We added a step to warm the ramekins before adding the caramel. It’s a tip we learned from Just One Cookbook. This keeps the caramel from thickening or solidifying to quickly.
  • If your caramel sauce is too thin, the base of the flan will mix in with it, creating a stronger ombre affect. If it’s too thick, it might separate from the flan. If you end up with any solid caramel in the bottom of the ramekins, you can heat it to loosen or liquefy as needed.

Bittman's Dairy-Free Flan Recipe - No Bake, No Dairy, No Eggs and Vegan Optional

Special Diet Notes: No Bake Dairy-Free Flan

By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, egg-free, gluten-free, grain-free, nut-free, peanut-free, plant-based, optionally vegan and optionally vegetarian.

For a soy-free, dairy-free coconut flan, you can replace the silken tofu with coconut cream.

Bittman’s Dairy-Free Flan (No Bake)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
The caramel is the trickiest part of this recipe. The right thickness will ensure you get just a slight ombre effect with a caramel topping. See the above post for tips. Also, please note that the Prep time is hands-on time only. This is a great make ahead recipe, since you want to allow time for chilling.
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 4 servings
  1. Whisk together the ½ cup sugar and water in a small heavy saucepan. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally (it’s best not to stir) until the sugar liquefies, turns clear, then turns golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  2. Editor Add: Just before the caramel finishes, soak 4 (6-ounce) ramekins in hot water to warm them, shake off the excess and place them in a baking dish or baking pan that will fit in your refrigerator. You want the ramekins to be hot so the caramel doesn't set up too quickly.
  3. Immediately pour the caramel into the bottom of your warm ramekins.
  4. Put the coconut milk in a medium saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low and cook, while stirring, until the gelatin dissolves entirely.
  5. Put the tofu, remaining 2 tablespoons vanilla, and salt in your blender or food processor and puree. Add the coconut mixture and blend until smooth.
  6. Pour the custard evenly over the caramel in your ramekins.
  7. Refrigerate the flans for at least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  8. Dip the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water for about ten seconds, run a thin knife all around the edge, and then invert onto plates, scraping the sauce over all.
Easier Serving Option: For a more casual dessert, you can use small bowls or cups instead of ramekins, and just serve the desserts with a spoon for scooping out the flan and caramel.

This recipe is adapted from The Foods Matter Cookbook by Mark Bittman.
Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 dairy-free flan Calories: 300 Fat: 14.8g Saturated fat: 12.6g Carbohydrates: 34.1g Sugar: 33.5g Sodium: 77mg Fiber: 0g Protein: 4.8g

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About Author

Alisa is the founder of, Food Editor for Allergic Living magazine, and author of the best-selling dairy-free book, Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living, and the new cookbook, Eat Dairy Free: Your Essential Cookbook for Everyday Meals, Snacks, and Sweets. Alisa is also a professional recipe creator and product ambassador for the natural food industry.


    • Mori-nu doesn’t typically have any liquid to drain, but if you are using a brand in water, yes, I would drain it. For the coconut milk, just as instructed. You add the coconut milk to the pan with the gelatin, let sit, then heat.

  1. What does “put 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 c water” mean? If making caramel, adding 1/2 c of water to 1/2 cup of sugar, you end up with sugar water. Is this a typo? Should any water be added to the sugar?

    • Susan, this is the method for making a “wet caramel.” There are two types of caramel – one where you simply caramelize the sugar, the other is this method using a sugar water mixture. If done correctly, you definitely won’t end up with sugar water!

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