Start by getting out 4 individual ramekins; ideally they should be 3-4 inches in diameter (at the base) and 2-3 inches deep. Place them within easy reach.
CARAMEL: Add the coconut sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and water to a medium saucepan and turn on medium-low heat. Set a timer for 3 minutes and stir constantly while cooking – the sugar will dissolve and the mixture should start to bubble vigorously and thicken slightly. Stick with it! If it is only gently bubbling, turn up your heat very slightly. Or if it’s smelling burnt at all, turn heat down. As soon as the 3-minute timer goes off, quickly distribute the caramel between your 4 prepared ramekins (~1 heaping tablespoon per ramekin). Set aside.
CUSTARD: You can rinse the same saucepan with hot water and use it for the custard, or choose another — make sure whatever pan you choose is deep enough to hold 4 cups (950 ml) of boiling liquid.
Add the salt, cornstarch or arrowroot, agar agar, maple syrup, and vanilla extract to the cooled (or room temperature) saucepan and whisk together until few lumps remain. Then add the coconut milk and whisk vigorously until well combined.
Place the saucepan over high heat, whisking continuously until the mixture comes to a boil. This should take about 5-7 minutes. Then reduce the heat to medium low and set a timer for 2 minutes. Continue whisking until the timer goes off. The mixture will have thickened but should still be quite loose and pourable.
Carefully distribute the custard between the ramekins, on top of the caramel. Let the flan cool for 5-10 minutes before transferring it to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 3 hours, uncovered. If chilling for more than 3 hours, cover lightly with foil, leaving room for a bit of ventilation.
Once set, you can eat your flan straight from the ramekins with a spoon, or carefully remove them by loosening the edges with a butter knife and turning them upside down onto a plate. You may need to shake gently and tap the bottom to help them slip out!
Best enjoyed the first day, but will keep for up to 3 days lightly covered in the refrigerator. Not freezer friendly.
*A full ramekin feels very indulgent and filling. We prefer 1 ramekin of flan served between two people. Or, if you have smaller ramekins (we didn’t), feel free to split recipe into 6-8 ramekins. *If using agar flakes (vs. powder), a reader mentioned it worked well with 1 ½ tablespoons flakes in place of 1 tsp powder. We haven't tested it that way and can't guarantee results. *Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with cornstarch.