Dave Mannion has fond memories of eating flan as a special treat in his childhood. His mother, originally from Peru, would make the caramel custard-based dish for special occasions in the Central NJ home where he grew up. These happy memories resurfaced during the pandemic when on a whim, he decided to try his luck at making it for him and his girlfriend in their South Philadelphia home.
While other people were baking bread during quarantine, the 31-year-old artist and t-shirt designer, who also works in hospitality, was craving flan. Making the soft, creamy, and decadent dessert is often an elaborate process involving a water bath to make the caramel, a lengthy cooling time, and overnight refrigeration so the custard can “set” correctly. A proper flan custard is smooth and wiggly but can stand up on its own. It is easy to overcook a flan, resulting in an eggy, rubbery texture.
He began perfecting a basic recipe, which turned out denser than traditional flans and with a luxuriously smooth mouth-feel instead of a jiggly, gelatinous texture.
“It’s like if a flan and a cheesecake had a baby,” Mannion gushed to Philly Grub about his homemade flan.
Then, he started experimenting with various ingredients and flavors.
“One time, I accidentally used the wrong ingredient, and I made an almond-flavored flan instead of a traditional vanilla flan,” Mannion said. “I had no idea until I was eating it, but it was so good that I started thinking of all the flavors I could develop.”
Baking flans was only meant to be a hobby, something to enjoy at home with his girlfriend. But when he started bringing his flan creations into work, coworkers raved about them. He also used his friends as taste-testers. Before he knew it, folks were beginning to request his flans for dinner parties, celebrations, and gifts.
“Word kept spreading around, and people began to ask me to sell them, so I figured, why not?” Mannion recalled.
That’s when Mad Yum Flan was born.
Mannion showcases his flans and takes orders via DM on the Instagram account. Besides word of mouth, he also started promoting on South Philly Facebook groups, and the orders started pouring in. Most customers arrange to pick them up in South Philly, but he will deliver around the city for a small fee.
Encouraged by early success, he hosted a pop-up sale at American Sardine Bar last month, where all of his flans sold out. He’s open to doing more pop-ups at other restaurants that want to put a different, locally-made dessert on the menu. Other venues or events are under consideration.
The flans come in two sizes: “smaller” (5″ deep X 3″ tall or 8-ish slices) or “bigger” (6″ deep X 3″ tall or 20-ish slices). Flavors will change seasonally, but the core flavors are vanilla, almond, chocolate, lemon zest, key lime, and chai. Prices range from $25 to $50, depending on size or flavor. Orders must be made 7 days in advance.
Next up, he’s working with Mallory Valvano of Party Girl Bake Club (another Instagram-only pop-up bakery by a former chef at American Sardine Bar). His flan creations will be available in a collaborative treat box for the holiday season.
“As far as I know, it’s an uncornered market, but there’s so much potential,” Mannion remarked about this new venture. “A traditional flan is delicious, but I have begun to see it as a blank canvas. I have so many ideas, and I am constantly inspired to bring new flavors to flan.”