Creme Anglaise or Custard

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Creme Anglaise is the french name for an egg custard and it’s also the base for ice cream. Here’s a recipe, tips on getting it right and flavourings you can add to make chocolate custard, liqueur-based custards and custard tarts.

The Classic Custard or Creme Anglaise recipe

Makes 600ml (halves or doubles easily)

500ml of single or double cream (or a half-and-half mixture of cream and milk)
1 vanilla bean, split in half or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
100g caster sugar

How to make Custard or Creme Anglaise

1. Put the milk and cream (or just cream) in a heavy saucepan (if you use a light-based saucepan, you won’t be able to control the heat as well and the custard could curdle or burn). Add a vanilla bean or vanilla extract.

2. In a large bowl, hand whisk the egg yolks and sugar together. (You shouldn’t use an electric mixer as you will incorporate too much air into the mixture.)

3. Bring the milk and cream just to the boil. Add a little of the milk and cream mixture to the eggs, whisking all the time. This stops the eggs getting a shock when you add them to the hot liquid in the saucepan. Pour the eggs into the saucepan with the milk and cream. If you are making custard for the first time, keep the heat to low and whisk all the time. If you wish you can turn the heat up a notch to speed up the thickening process but the custard may curdle.

4. Cook the custard until it thickens, whisking all the time, until the custard coats the back of a spoon. When it does, take the pan off the heat immediately (even if you have turned off the heat, there will still be residual heat in the burner or plate) and transfer the custard to a clean bowl. If it is a little lumpy or has curdled slightly, pour it through a sieve.

5. You can cool the custard over a bowl of ice or put it in the fridge to chill immediately. Cover it when it has cooled.

How to save a curdled Custard or Creme Anglaise

1. Strain the custard into a clean bowl. Place this bowl over a bowl of ice cubes and whisk as hard as you can. If this doesn’t work, blend it with a stick-blender or a stand blender.

About Creme Anglaise and tips for cooking it

– Creme Anglaise is made with egg yolks, sugar and milk or a mixture of milk and cream (called half-and-half in the US because you mix cream and milk together in equal measure). You can also make the custard with double cream – the result will be very rich and thick and is usually used with fruit or made into Creme Brulee (Creme brulee is ‘burnt custard’, this is where the finished custard is placed in a dish, sugar is sprinkled on top and it is grilled or blow-torched until it caramelises.)

– The egg yolks for your custard must be very fresh and every bowl and utensil and saucepan must be spotlessly clean.

– You make the creme anglaise or custard in a saucepan over a low heat. You stir it continually to make sure that the egg doesn’t curdle and that the custard doesn’t become lumpy. If it does, you just pour it through a sieve at the end to remove the lumps. Whisking vigorously during the cooking often gets rid of them.

– You never leave a custard on the heat and go to do something else. It doesn’t take long to make but you need to be present and focused when you are cooking it.

– You never let the custard boil or it will curdle. Always keep the temperature low and even until you get used to making custard, then you can be braver and turn the heat up. It takes longer for the custard to thicken this way but it is less likely to have to start again.

– The custard is done once it will coat the back of a spoon.

– To reheat custard, put the bowl over a pan of simmering water over a low heat and stir from time to time until the custard is warm.

– Custard can be used as a base for icecream but it must be chilled for a few hours first. Never make icecream with a warm custard – it is unsafe to eat.

– A stirred custard is one that is made and finished on top of the stove. A baked custard is where you make the custard, then cook it in a bain marie in the oven until it finishes cooking. Creme brulee is an example of a baked custard.

– You can also make a custard by whisking all the ingredients together and pouring them over, say bread and fruit, for a bread pudding, and letting the oven do the work and cook the custard until it is set. (In the case of bread pudding, it is good to leave the bread to soak in the custard for a few hours before baking.)

– Always store custard in the fridge, it should not be left out in the kitchen at room temperature where it could become unsafe to eat.

– You can keep custard for up to 3 days in the fridge if you have used very fresh egg yolks to make it. Keep it covered and never dip your finger in for a taste as you could contaminate it. Always use a clean spoon to remove the custard.

– You can use this custard to fill tart cases which you have previously blind-baked. Three quarters fill the tart cases, then bake at 180ºC until golden – about 15-20 minutes for small tartlets and up to an hour for a large tart or pie shell. To caramelise the top, sprinkle on granulated sugar and heat under a hot grill for a few minutes until burnished and bubbling. You can sprinkle on ground cinnamon or nutmeg for a Portuguese flavour.

Variations on the Custard or Creme Anglaise

– Add 100-200g of chopped dark chocolate to the custard when it is finished cooking but still warm. Mix well. Use a flavoured chocolate if you like to add variety: one with nuts would be good or a chilli chocolate or try an orange or mint or liqueur flavoured chocolate. Use less of a strongly flavoured or heavily sweetened chocolate or it could become too cloying.

– Add 2 tablespoons of liqueur to the custard – Baileys or Amaretto or Grand Marnier are fabulous but feel free to experiment with your favourites (it’s a great way of using up leftovers).

– For a coffee custard, add 1 tablespoon of strong espresso to the warm custard with a tablespoon of Tia Maria. Infuse the espresso with cardamom seeds, then strain before using, for a really special flavour.

– Layer your homemade custard with fresh berries and sour cream and crumble amaretto biscuits on top for a yummy dessert. Make the custard the day before and chill it to save time and stress.

Photograph copyright foodpixies.com

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