How To: A Modest Custard

March 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

Unless you’re making, say, a crème brûlé, I don’t believe custard necessarily needs cream in it. A perfectly nice custard can be made from just eggs, sugar, and milk. This is the kind of custard to be used in trifle, or poured over stewed fruit, or a warm slice of cake, this is a custard you can mix brandy into and serve beside Christmas pudding. There is nothing wrong with this custard.

I also don’t think you need too many eggs. Stephanie Alexander’s recipe in the Kitchen Companion has eight eggs. EIGHT. That’s too much. So this is a modest custard.

The thing with custard is, you have to be patient. Like with my caramelised onions recipe, it’s not difficult, but it does require some babysitting. You don’t want to waste your time, not to mention the ingredients, on a custard that has split (the ingredients can separate and you’ll have milky scrambled eggs). So keep the heat as low as possible, and once it starts to thicken, don’t stop stirring. You really need a heavy-bottomed saucepan for this, otherwise it’s almost definitely going to overheat and burn or split.

Makes about 500 millilitres of custard.


3 cups full fat milk (or 1 cup cream, 2 cups milk if you really want)
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster or white sugar
1 inch of a vanilla bean pod*(completely optional)

In the heavy-bottomed saucepan heat your milk (or milk and cream), if you have the vanilla pod, slice off the piece you want, gently slice down the middle and with the back of your knife, scrape the tiny vanilla beans into the milk, pop the bit of pod in too. You want the milk to reach a simmer, where there are lots of small bubbles on the surface, but not to boil. Turn off the heat.

In a large bowl whisk (with a fork is fine) the egg yolks and sugar together. Pour the warm milk into the egg mixture, stir briskly. Pour this back into the original saucepan and put it over low heat, stirring every few minutes with a wooden spoon. It will eventually start to noticeably thicken, you’ll feel a bit more resistance to the spoon going through the liquid. When this happens you need to stay nearby and stir gently and almost continuously. It will very slowly thicken even more. The hard part then becomes knowing when it’s thickened enough. Remember, it will also thicken as it cools. As it is quite hard to describe when it has reached a good viscosity, I’m including a picture, but as a general guide, tip your saucepan on an angle, then run your spoon down the centre from the top. If the little pathway stays there, you’re probably ok.


Take it off the heat, remove the vanilla pod if necessary and you’re done.

*Vanilla beans are super expensive, though less so if you can get them at delis in areas like Footscray and Coburg. I like to buy just one and stick it in my caster sugar. It gives a nice vanilla scent to the sugar, and if I need some real vanilla in a recipe, I just cut a bit off and use it. It does mean that when you are feeding people who know anything at all about cooking, they will be impressed by the little black dots floating in your custard or ice-cream or whatever. That’s nice.

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