Coconut Flan – Low Carb and Gluten-Free


Low Carb Coconut FlanAs someone with several degrees in Anthropology, I would say I have a strong respect for tradition.  Cultural, societal or religious, I can see how a traditions originate and why people take such comfort in them.  Traditions are what bind us to our past, what make us feel connected in a large and sometimes inhospitable world, and what give us guidance for acceptable behaviour.  Although not a religious person myself, I know I rely on many traditions, family and cultural, to help me order my world and connect with my family and loved ones.  I love our holiday traditions, our family traditions, and many of the traditions of Western society.  And I am infinitely fascinated by the traditions of other cultures, both the differences and similarities.   Tradition is a great many things to a great many people, and it is a large part in what makes us human; our reliance on the structure of tradition and passing traditions on to future generations.

Coconut Flan

But when it comes to food, I can’t say I am really a traditionalist.  Oh sure, I love my Thanksgiving turkey, and we always to do a big rib roast on Christmas, but other than that, I tend to break from tradition.  I love to shake things up, try out new recipes, tweak old ones, and basically never make anything the same way twice.  And let’s face it, low carb cooking and baking is anything but traditional.  You have to experiment, you have to use unusual ingredients and you have to come up with work-arounds for flour and sugar.  It’s a constant state of non-tradition.  I know low carb bloggers making french toast out of eggplant, oatmeal out of cauliflower and apple crisp out of squash.  To quote the legendary Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd, we are just wild and crazy guys.  We are taking tradition and standing it on its head.  The funny part is, we are often trying to makeover some of our favourite traditional foods into things we can eat and enjoy and not have to worry about the carbs.   We are non-traditional traditionalists.

Low Carb Coconut Flan

So when attempting a traditional dessert like flan, I have to think outside the box.  This recipe was a request from Ivonne on the All Day I Dream About Food Facebook page a while back and as I’d already considered attempting flan, I was definitely up for the challenge.  My biggest concern was that traditional flan is made with sweetened condensed milk, but I blew that little obstacle into smithereens when I made my own low carb sweetened condensed milk a few weeks back.  Obstacle number two, however, presented a bit more of a problem.  Traditional flan is a little like creme caramel, where sugar is caramelized and then put into the bottom of the ramekin, so that when it is inverted onto the plate, a delicious caramel sauce covers the top and sides of the custard.  Mmmmkay, now how do I replicate that caramel sauce without sugar?  I’ve made some pretty amazing things with erythritol, but although it caramelizes admirably, it downright refuses to stay in solution.  That means that as it cools, it re-crystallizes and forms a hard crust.  Not exactly what I wanted for my non-traditional traditional flan.

Xylitol is not my go-to sweetener because it’s a little harder on the digestive system (and is fatal to dogs, if you have any), but I always keep some around because it has its uses.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, this was one of its potential uses.  I have some xylitol-based maple syrup and figures that perhaps xylitol stayed in solution better than erythritol and that I could use it to make a caramel sauce that stayed liquid.  Here, however, is where I completely broke with tradition.  I decided to make the custard and the caramel sauce separately and simply pour the caramel sauce over the flan after it was cooked.  I know, I know, complete sacrilege for the flan traditionalist, but hear me out.  Knowing what I know about sugar alcohols, I simply couldn’t trust even the xylitol to stay liquid after being cooked and cooled.  I had visions of having the whole thing stick stubbornly to the bottom of my ramekins.  In which case I would be stuck with a gloppy, albeit tasty, custard mess.

So, there you have it.  Non-traditional traditional flan, caramel sauce sold separately.  And may I just say, it was amazing and I don’t regret breaking from tradition for a second!

Coconut Flan

Yield: 8 servings


  • 4 large eggs
  • 1, 14-oz can coconut milk
  • 1 recipe Low Carb Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1/4 cup Swerve Sweetener or granulated erythritol
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Caramel Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup xylitol
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • Garnish:
  • 1/4 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)


  1. For the flan, preheat the oven to 325F and butter 8 small ramekins or custard cups. Place ramekins inside a large baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, beat eggs until foamy.
  3. Beat in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, erythritol, shredded coconut and vanilla extract until well combined.
  4. Divide mixture evenly among prepared ramekins.
  5. Pour boiling water into baking dish around flans so that it comes about 2/3 up the side of ramekins.
  6. Carefully transfer baking dish into pre-heated oven and bake 45 to 55 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and set but center is still a tiny bit wobbly.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  8. For the caramel sauce, combine xylitol, water and molasses in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir continuously until xylitol is melted.
  9. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat and let cool and thicken slightly.
  10. To serve, run a sharp knife around each flan and invert onto a plate (you will have to jiggle somewhat to get it to come out...I found this easiest by holding plate and upside-down ramekin together and giving it a good shake).
  11. Drizzle with caramel sauce, sprinkle with flaked coconut and serve.


Serves 8. Each serving has 8 g of carbs and 2 g of fiber. Total NET CARBS = 6 g.

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  1. Luz says

    This looks amazing Carolyn I will have to try it! If you are taking requests I have a couple for you for the holidays Pumpkin Roll and Wedding Cookies also called almond crescents or russian tea cakes I think :)

  2. Eric says

    I don’t do facebook, so I can’t ask you there, but THANK YOU for this – it sounds delicious, and I can’t wait to try it, even if it is not traditional. And I’ll second the request for a pumpkin roll cake… Thanks again for all the great things you do.

  3. says

    Ooh, coconut flan… I will have to find a way to make a sweetened condensed milk that has no actual milk in it, because that’s a big dealbreaker for some of my readers. Between this flan and your magic cookie bars, finding a nondairy *and* low-carb condensed milk is fast becoming a priority.

      • says

        Right? That’s what I was thinking too — maybe the Aroy-D brand which has no gums in it.

        By the way, have you seen the new canned coconut milk from Trader Joe’s (with the brown labels)? It’s *incredibly* creamy.

  4. Lourdes says

    Hi Carolyn!
    This is my first time on your blog and I definitely know I’ll be back. I was referred over by JustasDelish. I was wondering how to make the condensed milk (CM) without sugar because my 12 y.o. is Type 1 diabetic and since he was diagnosed I’ve not been able to make Flan as much because although he can have a taste he really shouldn’t have too much of it. How amazed was I to see that one of your reasons for the CM is that you wanted to make Flan!
    Now just 1 suggestion: I have been making traditional flan for almost 20 years & the secret of getting the best caramelized sauce over it is that it MUST BE crystalized when you pour the rest of the ingredients in to bake! I was taught to not only wait till the sauce cooled but it had to harden & start CRACKING before adding all the other stuff to cook. So try it with your erythritol & see, after the baking and cooling it might just work!

    • Carolyn says

      Hi Lourdes, I am glad you came to my site after wondering how to create the exact thing I made! And that’s a great tip about the true caramelized sauce. I have to give that a go.

  5. andrew says

    if i could make a suggestion, would you please also put the calorie counts of the foods you make. i get that they are low carb, but low carb or not….high calorie intake will end up making you fat. just a suggestion since i know a lot of people who are low-carbing want to know the calorie content too.

    • Carolyn says

      I do now with my more recent recipes. For older ones, you will have to enter them into a calculator on your own…I simply have too many to go back and do them all! Thanks!


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