Tuesday, June 19, 2007
I have early memories of standing beside my mother in the kitchen, impatiently watching her making custard. It would begin with milk and Bird’s Custard powder, and after what seemed like a very long time, it would magically transform into a thick yellow sauce. As a young child I would only eat custard on its own; as I grew older I learned to pair it with apple pie, mince pie and Marks & Spencer's Christmas pudding (incidentally, M&S no longer operates in Canada).
Technically custard refers to a mixture of egg yolks and milk thickened with heat. Years later I learned that Bird’s is not in fact custard at all – it is a cornstarch mixture created by Alfred Bird for his wife who was allergic to eggs.
Custard is used in a variety of desserts including crème brûlée and as a filling for tarts. While most custards are used in sweet dishes, quiche and frittata are examples of savory custards.
Unlike the English, the French never use thickeners for their custard (known as crème moulée); when thickeners are added they refer to it as crème pâtissière (pastry cream) which is used to fill éclairs, profiteroles and mille-feuille (Napoleans).
Making custard from scratch is much easier than you think. It requires some stirring, but by using a touch of cornstarch you can speed the process along significantly.
Serves 8 to 10 as a sauce
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1. In a large saucepan heat the cream until it is just about to simmer. You can tell it is ready when the surface begins to gently roll but no bubbles have yet formed.
2. While the cream is heating, in a large bowl use a balloon whisk to beat the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch.
3. Carefully pour the hot cream, a little at a time, into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously.
4. Once mixed, immediately pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat to simmering and whisk constantly until the mixture is thick and creamy.
5. Remove from the heat, add vanilla extract, and stir thoroughly. Serve warm. Or pour the custard into bowl and cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Store in the refrigerator.