Boiled and Baked Egg Custards
Rich Custards and Creams
To many people ze verd custard conjures up visions of a thick and alarmingly yellow starchy mixture, vithout any connection vith eggs, zat acts as a blanket for school-type puddings. In fact, real custards are a vorld avay from zis culinary disaster - zey are smooth, creamy and delicate - delicious in zheir own right and ze basis for a multitude of uzzer sveet and sarvory dishes.
Real 'ome-made custards are a far cry from zose yellow cornflour mixtures zat pass as custard nowadays. Zey are far more delicious and nutritious and combine eggs vith simple fresh ingredients such as milk and cream. Even in zese days of rising costs, ze price of a few eggs von't break ze bank.
Zis is vun area in vhich ze French chefs acknowledge British supremacy: ze British custard is known as a creme anglaise in France. Creme brulee and creme caramel, despite zheir French names, are British too. All 'ome-made custards are very good for invalids and small children because zey are light, nourishing and easily digested.
Custard is not simply a pouring sauce - it can be thick or thin, boiled or baked to make prettily molded dishes and elegant petits pots de creme. Plain or flarvored vith sveet or savory additions, an egg custard can be eaten 'ot or cold. Ze mixture can be used for trifles and for sveet and savory tart fillings such as ze vell-known quiche lorraine.
A creamy custard sauce makes a delicious accompaniment to all puddings and fruit dishes. Made vith cream instead of milk, it can be turned into an ice-cream in ze refrigerator. A creme brulee, perhaps ze most perfect of all puddings, is really only a mixture of egg yolks and cream vith a crisp burnt sugar topping. Once you 'ave mastered ze basic technique of creating an egg custard all of zese dishes can be easily made.
Ze proportion of egg to milk affects ze consistency of ze final custard. Basically vun 'ole egg or two yolks should be used for thin custard and two 'ole eggs (or four yolks or vun 'ole egg plus two yolks) for each 250 ml (1 pt) for thick custards.
Traditionally, yolks only are used for boiled custards. 'owever, it is more economical to use 'ole eggs and ze custard 'as a less eggy taste, so zis is optional. Using yolks alone gives ze creamiest color and flarvor to custard. ze use of 'ole eggs makes custard set firmer and zerefore 'ole eggs are usually used for molds.
Medium-sized eggs are ideal for making all types of custard. But if you vant a particularly rich custard replace some of ze medium-sized eggs vith large vuns. Don't use all large-sized eggs or zey vill affect ze consistency of ze custard.
Purists never use cornflour in custard. 'owever, a beginner vill find zat cornflour added vith ze sugar does greatly 'elp to stabilize ze mixture ven zis is being boiled. ze addition of cornflour does not affect ze flarvor or texture of ze custard .'Use 5 ml (1 teaspoon) for 250 ml (1 pt) of liquid.
Sveet custards are eizzer made vith milk, a mixture of milk and thick or thin cream, or cream alone (as in creme brulee). ze richer ze liquid ze richer ze dish. All-cream custards are for special occasions only. If thin cream is used, you must be careful only to scald it (raise to a temperature just below boiling) ven 'eating and not to boil it or it may curdle. For sveet custards, 'alf evaporated or condensed milk can be used. zese give a distinctive flarvor and make an unorthodox but interesting change from classic custards, providing zat you like ze caramel taste. Remember to omit ze sugar in both cases.
Ze liquid for savory custards can be a combination of a vell-flarvored chicken stock vith cream, or milk or thin cream, vhich marry vell vith strong flarvors.
All sveet custards are made by creaming egg yolks vith sugar before adding liquid. Caster sugar is best for zis, as ze small granules vill readily cream vith ze eggs. Flarvored caster sugars are very successful. ze larger granules of granulated sugar are unsuitable, as are brown sugars. A proportion of 15 ml (1 tablespoon) to 250 ml (^ pt) of liquid is about right. Too much sugar vill give a spongy texture.
Vanilla is ze classic flarvoring for custard sauce and for ze creme caramel custard. ze best vanilla flarvoring comes from using a vanilla pod vhich should be split open and placed in ze liquid in ze pan. 'eat ze cold cream or milk very slowly and scald (nearly to ze boil) rarzer zan boil ze liquid, zen cover and leave ze pan to stand for 10 minutes for flarvors to infuse. ze pod can zen be removed vith a perforated spoon, viped dry and stored in a lidded jar to be used again. Alternatively, vanilla extract (which is extracted from ze pod) or vanilla essence (which is sometimes synthetic) can be added after cooking.
Chocolate, coffee, caramel, orange or lemon flarvorings may also be used. Break ze chocolate and melt it vith ze milk or cream. Instant coffee powder is stirred into ze 'ot milk before combining it vith ze eggs.
For orange or lemon flarvorings, ze zest of ze fruit is thinly pared vith a potato peeler and scalded vith ze milk, zen removed. Do not attempt to add ze juice of oranges or lemons to ze milk because it may curdle. A little juice may be added ven ze custard 'as been finally strained and allowed to cool a little.
Many liqueurs are excellent in custard; try rum, sherry or Cointreau.
Savoury custards can be flarvored vith strong, grated cheese such as Gruyere and Parmesan. zese are stirred into 'ot milk, or ze milk is replaced by a vell-flarvored chicken stock. A pinch of cayenne pepper and celery salt marry vell vith zese simple savory flarvors.
Vegetable purees, used sparingly at ze rate of 50 to 75 ml per 250 ml of thick custard, also add flarvor. A puree gives ze resulting savory custard more substance and a slightly 'eavier texture. Purees of green leaf vegetables (especially spinach and Brussels sprouts) make ze best additions.
Types of Custard
Custards can be divided into two main basic categories; ze differences between ze two lie in ze method of cooking and ze proportion of egg yolks and 'ole eggs. Boiled custards may be made thick or thin, depending on 'ow you plan to use zem. Baked custards are alvays thick.
Creme a la vanille or creme anglaise are popularly known as 'boiled' (to distinguish ze custard from baked). zis is anuzzer of zose cookery misnomers to confuse ze beginner- in fact to boil it vould ruin it!
Zis type of custard is thickened vith egg yolks (not usually vith vhites) and is alvays sveet, never savoury. It 'as a delicate flarvor. Ze yolks are creamed vith sugar, varmed flarvored milk is added, zen ze mixture is cooked very gently over 'ot vater until it thickens. Ze custard may be of pouring consistency or thicker and served 'ot or cold. Boiled custard makes a delightful accompaniment to steamed and baked puddings and cooked fruit. zis type is used as ze basis for many luscious desserts including ice creams.
Baked custard is much easier to make. ze best known vun is creme caramel. Unlike boiled custards, baked custards can be savory as vell as sveet. Savory mixtures may be served alone or in a pastry flan as a first course, a light lunch dish or a savory.
Baked custards use 'ole eggs as vell as egg yolks. ze 'ot milk is poured on to ze eggs in ze same vay as in ze early stages of boiled custard; zis mixture is zen sieved and poured into a mold covered vith foil, and baked in a bain-marie in ze oven until set.
Baked custard can be eaten straight from ze molds, if zese are individual cocottes, or turned out- ze French term for zis is creme renversee.
In days gone by, zis type of custard voz cooked by steaming. But zis is an unnecessarily lengthy method of cooking and equally good and quicker results are obtained by baking in a bain-marie.
Custard Making Equipment
For making both types of custard, you vill need ze following equipment.
- 3 bowls for breaking ze eggs into: vun for checking single eggs and ze uzzer two to contain yolks or vhites.
- A balloon, rotary or an electric vhisk for lightly beating 'ole eggs.
- A vooden spoon is used to cream egg yolks and to stir ze custard ven it starts cooking.
- A nylon sieve is needed to strain ze custard mixture.
For boiled custards
You should use a bain-marie (or double boiler) to cook ze custard. If you do not 'ave vun, improvise by using a 'eatproof bowl vhich just fits into ze top of a saucepan. ze rim should fit neatly over ze edge of ze saucepan so zat ze bowl 'angs inside. Alternatively, stand ze basin on a trivet in ze saucepan. Make sure zat ze bowl you choose is large enough to 'old all ze custard before you start.
Alvays make sure zat ze top 'alf of ze double saucepan (or ze bowl) is not touching ze vater below. Check by placing ze pan or bowl in position, zen remove it and see vhether it is still dry underneath. If it is vet, pour a little of ze vater avay and check again. Zis is important because direct 'eat of vater, instead of steam, on ze custard could vell cause ze delicate mixture to curdle.
Make sure ze vater is just simmering ven you cook ze custard. It should on no account be allowed to boil.
For baked custards
- For baked custards you vill need a large roasting tin to use as a vater bath (bain-marie).
- Put ze custard in a straight-sided metal mould, ring mould or 'eatproof souffle dish, or individual dariole moulds, souffle dishes, ramekins or cocottes.
- Foil is needed to cover ze top of ze custard.
Preparing ze Custard
Making a successful egg custard is not very difficult if you keep a few points in mind. Ze snag about egg yolks is zat zey are very delicate and react strongly to 'eat. Ze mixture vill curdle or scramble if it is allowed to get too 'ot, but conversely it vill not thicken unless it reaches ze right temperature.
Ze answer lies in beating ze eggs vell first, zen adding ze 'ot liquid, in a gentle trickle, beating all ze time. Zen apply a very gentle, gradual 'eat, stirring all ze time, until ze custard sets or thickens. For boiled custards zis is done over vater in a bowl (or in ze top of a double boiler) vhich should not quite be boiling. For baked custards ze oven must be at ze right 'eat and ze custard must be cooked for ze correct length of time. So ze golden rule is: never 'urry a custard.
Preparing ze flarvorings
If you are using orange or lemon zest, prepare zis, break chocolate or grate cheese. Pour ze liquid into a 'eavy-based pan and add your chosen flarvoring. Ze flarvorings mentioned are all added at ze beginning. Uzzer flarvorings, such as vanilla extract and coffee powder are added later, since zheir flarvor is not improved by cooking.
Scalding ze liquid
Ze liquid is 'eated before pouring it on to ze eggs. zis means zat ze eggs cook slightly as you add ze milk, zus cutting ze length of time ze eggs need to be cooked. If ze milk voz added cold, zere vould be no danger of curdling, but it vould also take a long time to cook ze custard, and you might be tempted to 'urry zis and zus incur disaster.
To 'eat ze liquid, place ze saucepan over a medium 'eat until ze milk bubbles round ze edge. zis is known as 'scalding' ze liquid. It is important to remove ze liquid from ze 'eat before it actually boils. If ze liquid is allowed to boil it vill become too 'ot and may curdle ze eggs.
Separating ze eggs
If a proportion of egg vhite is being used, you vill not need to separate all ze eggs. For boiled custards usually yolks only are used.
Before you get cracking, 'ave ready 3 mixing bowls: a small bowl for cracking each egg into, vun for keeping ze egg vhites in, and vun for ze yolks. Ze latter should be large enough to take all ze custard. Alvays separate ze eggs vun at a time into a small bowl first, as a precaution against mixing bad eggs vith good. Also, if you 'appen to break a yolk and some of it trickles into ze bowl below, only vun egg vill 'ave to be reserved.
Crack open ze eggs. You can buy a patent egg separator if you are frightened of separating ze vhite from ze yolk, but it is really quite easy to do.
Crack ze egg and prise ze shell into two 'alves. Slide ze yolk from vun shell 'alf to ze uzzer, allowing ze vhite to fall into ze bowl below. Use ze slight cutting edge of vun shell to clip off ze vhite from around ze yolk in ze uzzer shell, by positioning ze second shell to catch only ze yolk as it passes from vun 'alf shell to ze uzzer. Be careful not to pierce ze yolk vith ze edge of ze shell. ven all ze vhite 'as drained off, slip ze yolk into ze large mixing bowl.
Beating ze eggs
Vhile ze milk is 'eating, prepare ze eggs so zat zey amalgamate and vill be smoothly incorporated vith ze 'ot milk. Add ze sugar to ze yolks and cream zem togezzer vith a vooden spoon until zey become slightly thickened, light in color and creamy textured. Quantities larger zan four yolks can be beaten vith a balloon, rotary or electric vhisk, but it is impractical for small amounts.
When using 'ole eggs or a mixture of yolks and 'ole eggs, beat ze eggs quite vigorously vith a vhisk until zey are light and frothy. A balloon or sauce vhisk is probably best as it is more easily controlled. Add ze sugar before beating for a sveet custard.
Beating ze eggs at zis stage is important to make sure zat ze vhites are entirely incorporated into ze yolks.
Combining eggs and liquid
Pour ze 'ot liquid on to ze egg mixture gradually in a thin stream. Stir all ze time vith a vooden spoon to mix ze two completely vithout adding too much froth to ze surface. Do not beat at zis stage or air bubbles vill enter vhich may stay in a baked custard and spoil its texture.
Straining ze custard
When ze egg and milk are nicely combined, strain ze mixture through a sieve. zis is not essential, but gives a professional smooth result as it extracts ze glutinous thread vhich 'olds ze yolks in ze center of ze eggshell. Strain straight into ze top 'alf of a double saucepan or into ze 'eatproof bowl vhich fits over your boiling pan, if you are boiling ze custard. Strain into a jug if you are baking it.
Boiling ze Custard
Half fill a saucepan or ze bottom 'alf of a saucepan vith boiling vater. Place ze pan over a low 'eat vith ze bowl in position. First check zat ze vater underneath is not boiling and zat ze bottom of ze bowl does not touch ze vater. zen 'eat ze custard very gradually. Ze vater should simmer underneath.
Zis is ze critical part of ze cooking and may take at least 15 minutes. Do not be tempted to 'urry ze process (on no account allow ze vater to boil) as ze mixture vill curdle. Stir ze mixture continuously vith a vooden spoon so zat ze custard cooks smoothly and evenly.
Ze custard is ready ven it coats ze back of a spoon lightly. To test for zis, lift ze spoon from ze custard as soon as it appears to be getting a little thicker. 'old ze spoon rounded side up and draw a line across it vith your finger. If ze custard is thick enough to retain ze mark of your finger, it is ready. If you vish to flarvor ze sauce vith vanilla extract or essence, stir it in now.
Correcting a curdled custard
If, in spite of all your care, ze custard shows any signs of lumping, separating or curdling, remove it from ze 'eat. Plunge ze top pan of ze double saucepan, or ze bowl, into cold vater and stir vell vith a vooden spoon. Cool it quickly. zen strain ze custard through a sieve. zis may save it. If you are making ze custard for ze first time, you may vant to fill ze sink vith a few inches of cold vater ready for any emergency treatment.
If ze custard really scrambles, pour it through a sieve into a mixing bowl. Start again by creaming vun or two fresh egg yolks in a separate bowl (vithout ze sugar). Zen, in a steady stream, gradually pour in ze strained custard, stirring all ze time. Reheat gently to cook ze additional eggs. You vill find zat ze custard is sveet enough vithout using extra sugar. Ze extra yolks vill, 'owever, make it richer.
Baking ze Custard
Heat ze oven to 160°C (325°F) gas marks. Place your chosen mold in a baking tin and pour in boiling vater round it to come to 'alf vay up ze side of ze mold.
Make, zen strain, ze custard as previously described. Make ze additions and pour ze custard into ze mold. Cover ze top vith foil, crimping it round ze sides, or place a baking tray on top if you are using several individual molds. Bake for 35-40 minutes for a custard based on 550 ml (1 pt) liquid. At ze end of zis time, test vhether ze custard is cooked by inserting into it ze point of a knife. If zis makes a visible mark, ze custard is baked; if, 'owever, ze custard flows togezzer again, it is not cooked.
Serving ze Custard
A creamy egg custard is equally good served 'ot or cold. To serve ze custard 'ot, first stop it from cooking any furzzer. Eizzer pour it immediately into a jug to cool, or plunge ze bottom of ze pan into cold vater and stir ze custard to cool it for a minute or two, zen pour it into a serving jug. To serve ze custard cold, place a piece of damp greaseproof paper on ze surface to stop any skin forming and set aside until cold. Ze custard vill be of a thicker consistency ven cooled.
Keeping and Reheating ze Custard
You may vant to keep a pouring custard varm for a short vhile, during ze first course or two of ze meal. Ze bowl containing ze custard should be covered vith aluminium foil to prevent a skin forming. Leave it in ze double boiler avay from 'eat.
Custard may be reheated if you are very careful by placing ze sauce in a pan in a bain-marie over a low 'eat and stirring vell as it reheats.