THE CUSTARD SEASON ... then things suddenly turned yellow.

By Jan-Hendrik van der Westhuizen

Winter in the south of France is almost unimaginable, especially once you've gotten used to the heat of July and August.  For the past 2 years, I have done this in a small galley onboard a Yacht. With barely any air-conditioning and a constant glare from the water, I was left with no alternative but to secretly put frozen peas on my ears to cool down every once in a while.

The last days of February, a small festival pulls locals from their hide outs to the streets for a celebration of what the Cote d Azur is so famous for, its warm, yellow light. So to get more in with the locals I went to the street action in Villefranche-sur-Mer which is around the corner from where we live… On my way walking there I noticed how everyone comes back with a bunch of bright yellow flowers which are blossoms from the beautiful Mimosa tree which is marking the end of winter and the first days of Spring. While in Villefranche-sur-Mer I had a stop at the Patisserie and couldn’t resist the tempting yellow custard filled with dried prunes which led me to realizing that yellow is everywhere!….

My partner has this thing for Flan patisserie,  which is a  typical French thick custard made with eggs, cornflour, milk and baked in a brisee crust, so needless to say I wanted to “out bake” the local Patisserie and be able to make this on a monthly basis to keep up the appearances. Because as my mother told my sister (which I purposely overheard… mmmm) is “that the only way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”

Most bakeries in France are judged on the quality of their Flan. It is such an affordable and popular pastry that it is normally sold out before mid-afternoon.  So, in trying to get the flan exactly right, I experimented with a few recipes and I have to add that after about 4 experiments, I got the consistency right and it turned out just perfect - with a moist, light and creamy filling.

There were some recipes that were just too firm and lacked the lightness that I was looking for. The secret was to replace the corn starch with custard powder, which thickened the custard to perfection. At the same time, I added some Prunes, which gives it a delicious tang! I then found out that most French bakeries use custard powder and have adapted this recipe from the Bouchon bakery.




  • 1 Batch of Pâte brisée, (if you get a good quality from the store) or recipe below
  • 1 ½ litres full cream milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, sliced in half
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup castor sugar
  • 1 cup custard powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 20 French dried french prunes.


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Warm 1 litre of the milk and the vanilla pod on medium heat, making sure it doesn’t boil.  
  3. In a blender, add the eggs and egg yolks, sugar, custard powder, salt and rest of milk.  
  4. Blend until well mixed and light in colour.
  5. Remove the vanilla pod from the warm milk and add one cup of hot milk to the custard mixture, then pour the custard mixture back into the saucepan and stir over slow to medium heat until the custard gets nice and thick with a shiny appearance.
  6. Butter a 23 x 5 cm cake ring and line with the rolled pastry, making sure the pastry overlaps on the sides.  
  7. Line with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or rice.  
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes until the pastry gets a golden colour.
  9. Remove and cool the pastry case to room temperature.
  10. Remove the paper, beans/rice and arrange the prunes evenly on the bottom of the pastry.  
  11. Pour the custard slowly over the prunes until it is almost running over the sides, then place back into the oven and bake again for 40-50 min.  
  12. Remove from oven and allow to cool down before refrigerating for at least 3 hours.




  •  250 g flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 115 g butter, diced at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons water


  1. Put the flour in a large bowl and make a “well” in the middle.
  2. Put the salt, yolk, and butter into the well and use your fingers to mix the ingredients until it forms a dough.  
  3. Add the water and keep mixing to form a smooth ball, work as quickly as possible so the dough does not become tough.  
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for at-least one hour.

Bon appetit!


Originally published 2 March 2013