This is a classic English Vanilla Custard, a recipe which has now become the standard version of a custard in many of the top restaurants (having evolved in kitchens over hundreds of years). Although it is simple to make, it is both exquisite tasting and delicate, it can even be used as the base to make the most wonderful Vanilla Ice Cream. In other words if a recipe calls for a home-made ‘custard’ then this is the recipe you should use. The only thing to remember is that a proper custard should never be left to its own devices, it demands respect, concentration and vigilance.
Custard (or creme Angliase) has a very long history and tradition in Britain. So old in fact that the first references to custard come in the first ever Medieval cookery manuscripts. These first custards were an almond milk or almond cream, with recipes for ‘custards’ baked in a pastry (like a custard tart etc.). In the Harleian manuscripts (dated from 1430 AD) recipes for stirred custards, cooked in pots, appear as ‘Creme Boyled’.
Vanilla Custard Recipe
Makes just under 1 litre of vanilla custard
- 500ml of whole milk
- 300ml of double cream
- 1 vanilla pod (or use quality vanilla extract)
- 6 fresh egg yolks (the yolks only are needed)
- 80g of caster sugar
Put a heavy based saucepan (with a pouring spout) on a low heat and add the milk, cream, and vanilla pod. After 10 minutes on a low heat increase the temperature and stir to slowly bring this mixture up to the boil. When near the boil, take off the heat. It is essential to use a heavy based saucepan to distribute the heat evenly and stop the cream from catching and burning.
Meanwhile beat and whip the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl, with a whisk, until the yolks and sugar are almost white (it takes a few minutes).
Remove the vanilla pod and reserve. Then add the hot milk and cream little by little to the bowl with the beaten egg yolks and sugar, making sure you whisk continuously as you do so.
Once fully mixed transfer all the ingredients back to the saucepan. Split the vanilla pod with a sharp knife lengthways, and scrape the seeds out into the custard. Put the custard back on to a medium heat for a few minutes. See the information on temperatures to heat the custard to below.
Use the whisk to whip the custard and evenly distribute the vanilla seeds in the saucepan. Then on a medium heat stir continuously with a spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of it (it takes only a few minutes). When it is at this stage it must be withdrawn from the heat. The custard will continue to thicken and darken slightly in colour as it cools.
Finally pour the vanilla custard into a clean bowl or serving jug, and as it cools stir occasionally to stop a skin from forming. This custard may now be used warm for pouring over puddings, cooled and added in trifles, or frozen to make vanilla ice-cream in an ice-cream maker.
Note on temperatures: Making custard is a balance. If the custard (with the egg yolks added) reaches too high a temperature it will curdle – but the higher the temperature, the thicker the resulting custard will be, and as it cools it will thicken some more. A temperature increase of just 5°C can lead to overcooking and curdling – generally a fully-cooked custard should not exceed 80°C and it will begin to set if you bring it up to 70°C.
Overcoming Problems: Contrary to popular belief you have to do a lot wrong to this custard to make it worth throwing away and starting again – particularly if you follow the stages outlined. If the eggs start to curdle or thicken in clumps all is not lost, if you catch it early enough, take off the heat and just give the mixture a good whisk, this normally solves the problem. However, if it is too far gone to break the lumps apart, then just strain the mixture by pushing it through a fine sieve, this normally clears the custard.