Creme Anglaise, which literally translated means 'English Cream', was one of my favorite childhood desserts. Surprisingly, with all the cooking I do, I had forgotten about this past favorite till my friend Amber recently requested a recipe for it. I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad that I made only 2 cups ....it finished way too fast but the amount I ate! I have a feeling I'll be making a lot more of this vanilla custard sauce in the near future now that I've rediscovered it!
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Custards are one of the most basic and popular types of desserts that possibly exist. With many variations of this basic dessert, the custard sauce was created somewhere in the mid 19th Century in England. The ingredients are simple but the technique takes a little practice. Once you get the hang of it you'll wonder why you never made this delightfully smooth, silky, sweet and velvety dessert before. With a slight change in the proportions of the four basic ingredients or the cooking technique you can completely transform the desert into something different.
My childhood consisted of lots of custard! In Pakistan, Instant Custard was the equivalent of Instant Pudding in the USA. The custard was sold as a powdered mix in assorted flavors, under the brand name Rafhan. All one had to do was heat the milk, stir in the powder, whisk and chill. The custard was often accompanied with jello and a can of tinned fruit.
If we were really feeling festive or guests were coming we would add some sponge cake and layer the custard, jello and fruit to make a trifle. As a young child, knowing that there was custard and jelly for dessert would have me drooling all day long.
My grandmother used to stew guavas in a little bit of sugar syrup and served those along with sliced bananas, jelly (as we call it in Pakistan) and custard. This was another favorite childhood treat and I'm guessing the recipe came from a time when tinned fruit wasn't easily available in Pakistan.
Regardless of what accompanied it, the Custard was always the centerpiece of the dessert table!
The first time I attempted a Vanilla Custard Sauce from scratch was when I was about 16. I think that was the point at which I realized that the boxed instant mix would no longer make the cut! I love the sauce chilled on a bowl of berries as pictured above in the summer. But in winter I like it warm, as in my spice cake with orange creme anglaise recipe.
One of the best tips I've read and use to this day was from www.foodandwine.com. Per the magazines advice, I always keep a bowl of ice, along with a smaller bowl to pour the custard into and chill atop the ice, right next to the stove. Since the saucepan is hot the creme anglaise will keep cooking in it even if you turn the stove off. So it's very important to immediately pour the custard into the bowl and onto the ice to chill to prevent the sauce from curdling.
The Ingredient Ratio
A few other tips I've accumulated over the years that have helped me are to maintain a perfect ratio of ingredients. You need to have a 1:1 ratio of milk to heavy whipping cream. Too much fat will make your custard too thick and it won't pour well. Too little fat will make it too thin and watery.
SImilarly, some recipes call for 4 eggs to 2 cups of liquid, some say 5 and some 6, some say to add cornstarch...it can all get a bit confusing. I personally don't like the taste of cornflour, it does make the custard thicker but I don't like the texture.
If you want to have a thicker custard the trick is to add 1 tablespoon (no more) and whisk it into the egg and sugar mixture before you add the hot milk and cream to the eggs. Do be careful about whisking the custard if you add the cornflour as the custard will thicken quicker and you don't want any lumps in it.
I stick to 5 eggs for 2 cups of liquid and no corn flour as I feel 6 can sometimes give the custard a slightly eggy taste. The custard should just coat your spoon and be the consistency of heavy whipping cream when you take the custard off the stove. After it cools, by the next day it should be the consistency of condensed milk.
If for some reason you still find that there's an eggy smell (some people may be more sensitive to this than others) you can leave the stick of vanilla in the creme anglaise as it cools overnight and remove it just before serving. This will further infuse the sauce with the essence. Some alternatives to the vanilla are nutmeg, cinnamon or amaretto if you feel like experimenting.
Once you get the hang of it it's the easiest dessert to make ahead of time and serve. In fact you should try it for your Fourth of July BBQ this year!
As mentioned in the notes in the recipe card my two main recommendations if you like custard and plan to make it are:
- Buy a Double Saucepan if possible. As mentioned, you will find this very useful for melting chocolate, making lemon curd, hollandaise sauce and of course creme anglaise. If you don't have access to one then follow the instructions for alternate options in the NOTES section of the recipe card.
- Buy a good thermometer. I highly recommend the chefalarm which you can order from www.thermoworks.com and have been using mine for some months now. (Although I do get a commission from this sale I can in all honesty say that I am recommending this product only after using it myself for a few months. I am not a part of any other affiliate programmes to date and moving forward will only recommend products if I feel they will truly add value to your kitchen) The video below will help illustrate how I use the alarm and I'm available to help answer any questions should you be interested. Ofcourse, a regular kitchen thermometer can do the trick as well so please use whatever you're most comfortable with but do use one as precision is key to a perfect custard!
I hope you decide to try this recipe! Please ask me any questions in the comments below or message me through one of my social media platforms and I'll be happy to help with any problems you may encounter. Don't forget to rate the recipe after you try it!
Vanilla Custard Sauce (Creme Anglaise)
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 cup full fat milk
- 5 egg yolks
- ½ cup sugar
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract (SEE NOTES)
- Measure and set all the ingredients on your counter. Timing is key so have everything at hand including all necessary utensils.
- Fill the bottom portion of your double saucepan with water and set on the stove to boil (SEE NOTES FOR ALTERNATE METHOD).
- Fill an empty bowl with ice and have another (smaller) empty bowl ready on hand to pour the custard into when ready.
- Beat the egg yolks with 2 tbsps of sugar and set aside.
- Put the milk, cream and remaining sugar in the top portion of the double saucepan and set to heat. I use my chefalarm and set it to go off when the liquid reaches a temperature of 180 degrees ( SEE NOTES FOR ALTERNATE METHOD).
- When the liquid is hot enough remove from the stove (leaving the lower pan and water cooking on the stove) and add in the vanilla extract.
- Add the hot mixture very slowly to the eggs and whisk vigorously to prevent the eggs from curdling.
- Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and return on top of the double heated saucepan. Whisk consistently till the custard starts to thicken.
- The custard is ready when it just coats the spoon and you can run a finger through the center, leaving a clean line there.
- Remove the custard and pour into the (smaller) empty bowl and place it on top of the bowl full of ice. Stir gently for a little bit to help cool the custard and leave it there till it reaches room temperature. Stir on and off to prevent a film forming on the surface.
- Pour in a container and refrigerate overnight (the custard will continue to thicken as it chills during this time)
- Enjoy your custard the next day with your favorite dessert!
- Slightly grainy custard can be strained through a fine mesh sieve and it's texture revived.
- If you feel it's a bit too grainy for the sieve to fix, or if you prefer something quicker, take the slightly warm custard and run it through the blender. If you feel the need you can even add a tablespoon or two of heavy whipping cream to help regain the desired velvety texture.