Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Creme Anglaise / English Custard Sauce / Homemade Custard Sauce

Custard for a lot of us here, conjures up an image of a yellow box of instant mix, occupying an almost permanent place in the refrigerator and on the grocery list. We have grown up eating this dessert, most often with fresh fruit. A good number of times, this dessert makes an appearance post festivals when you have fruit raining all over the place. Or as one real quick and easy life-saver dessert for unexpected guests. For folks like me, the 'real' custard made with milk and eggs is something very new.

I am not much of a custard (made with powder) person and hardly ever make it out of choice. Was curious to know what a home-made custard tastes like.Tried it and we absolutely loved the creamy sauce with the barely perceptible crunch of the vanilla bean. So much better and delicious than the custard made with custard powder mix! Received a stash of  plump and shiny beans from Deeba , am truly humbled and don't really know what to say except a heartfelt 'Thanks a ton!' for that generosity...I am now spolit for the quality and going to be looking out for similar ones. What difference quality does to the end product!

Compiled with reference to The Cake BibleBaking 911 and Joy Of Baking. Creme Anglaise or English Custard Sauce or home-made custard sauce is basically milk, egg yolks and sugar cooked on the stove top (sometimes over a pan of simmering water) with flavoring optionally added to it. Whole milk forms an extremely important part of this sauce, the egg yolks add to the richness and the characteristic yellowish color. The end result is a smooth and creamy, delicious sauce which can be served warm or cold with fresh fruit or used as a base for other desserts. This is a 'cooked' or 'stirred' custard as it is cooked on a stovetop and differs from a 'baked' custard which contains whole eggs and baked in a water bath.

Custard and its variations are quite a few. Bavarian cream is Creme Anglaise which contains whipped cream and  is molded with gelatin added to it. You could make Creme Anglaise with part heavy cream and make a rich ice cream out of it. When you use cornstarch to thicken the custard sauce, it becomes pastry cream and can be used as a filling for pies, eclairs and cakes. Creme Caramel is custard (with whole eggs) baked. Creme Brulee is rich custard baked and then topped with a crackly layer of caramelized sugar.

Creme Anglaise can be of varying consistency and richness, but its not meant to be very thick or very sweet, its mildly sweet and always pourable. The standard proportion is 2-3 egg yolks and 2-3 tablespoons sugar for every cup of milk. You could use vanilla beans or grated orange zest or liqueur to flavor the sauce. In The Cake Bible, Rose Beranbaum makes versions with ground coffee, pistachio and praline paste too. 

One note worthy thing here, when making custard sauce with only milk it has to be whole milk for best results. Skimmed milk or low fat milk will not give you results you will fall in love with. Also, if you reduce the number of yolks, the sauce will not be as rich. You could use part cream in the recipe for an even richer version. Light custard (all milk) to go with a rich dessert and a rich custard (3/4 cream) to serve with fruit says Rose. But using enough yolk and whole milk gives a sauce rich and tasty enough. I have used 6 egg yolks for 2 cups of milk as I had seen Monsieur David Lebovitz's Orange Creme Anglaise  and I wanted my sauce as thick and creamy as his...

Important :Cooking the custard till the right point is critical here. An undercooked custard is not safe to eat, overcook and the sauce may curdle. And the difference between cooked and curdled can be a few seconds. So do get all the ingredients and paraphernalia in place before you begin.

You will need: A large bowl of ice. A largish stable bowl with a wide base (so that the bowl doesn't spin as you whisk) A smaller bowl placed in the ice-bath with a strainer suspended over it. A whisk, spatula, a wide spoon and a heavy saucepan. Helpful to have an instant read thermometer. Your mixer with the largest jar - a clean one, ready to use!

Whole Milk - 2 cups (500 ml)
Egg Yolks - 6
Sugar - 4 tablespoons (this was just sweet, more if you want it sweeter)
Salt - a tiny pinch ( I did not use)
Vanilla bean - 1/2 , split lengthwise
Pure Vanilla Extract - 1 teaspoon

Procedure: Suspend a large, fine strainer over a bowl, place it over a larger bowl filled with ice. (this helps arrest the cooking process when you strain the sauce into the bowl). Whisk the egg yolks and sugar (and salt) together in wide-base bowl. Keep aside. Do not leave this sitting for too long as a film will develop over the yolks.

Take the milk in a heavy saucepan, scrape the vanilla bean caviar into it. Heat the milk and vanilla bean to the boiling point. Turn off the heat. Take 1/4 cup of milk and very slowly dribble it into the yolk and sugar mixture, whisking all the while. Slowly dribble another 1/4 cup, while whisking continuously. Dribble in all the milk gradually. Let the bean remain in it. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Cook the custard on low heat (to be safe), stirring constantly.

Steam will begin to appear and the mixture will thicken. The sauce will leave a well defined track on the back of a spoon when you run a finger across. This will be at the boiling point ( between 170 degree F and 180 degree F). This happened only nearing 180 F for me. The time will depend on the heat you are giving. It took me about 3 minutes on medium heat. The point at which you will take the saucepan off the heat is at the point when the sauce leaves a trail on the back of the spoon without the sauce running down the trail . At this point, immediately take the saucepan off the heat and strain it into the bowl set over the ice bath. Keep stirring constantly, till it cools.

The sauce will be thick at this stage and will thicken further slightly when chilled. Refrigerate when it comes to room temperature. When the sauce cools, stir in the vanilla extract or liqueur if using. You could use the sauce right away or chill and use. If using the sauce later, let the bean remain in the sauce till you serve.

You can store this upto 5 days refrigerated, 3 months frozen according to the Cake Bible.

We loved the sauce poured over fruit...

Pooled around a slice of cake... And just as is, chilled!

 Note: Be very careful as its difficult to see when the sauce reaches the boiling point when you are stirring because of the foam. If you heat over 180 F, the mixture will curdle. Again you won't see the curdling immediately as it will curdle at the bottom slightly and you are likely to see it only when you strain the mixture. If the mixture curdles slightly, remove the bean, immediately pour sauce (without straining it) into the blender and blend till smooth and then strain.( Be careful as there will be a lot of steam and if your mixer jar is not large enough you are likely to take a shower in the hot sauce. Yes, it happened once to me as I used the medium sized jar. The volume of the sauce per se in the jar  will look less, but this happens because of the steam)

Straining is important even if there is no curdling as it will give you a smoother sauce.

Making this custard is really easy and quick and the result is delicious. Very eggy? Surprisingly no. I am wary of eggy smelling dishes and this one was surprisingly not smelling very eggy in spite of the 6 yolks I used. Try it out for yourself, its worth trying out even if you are egg-phobic! As for me, I am going to be making this again and again! 

Get comfortable making this custard sauce and you can dish up a lot more! 

Crème Patissière or Pastry cream http://tinyurl.com/nq4dumm

Crème Caramel http://tinyurl.com/nqlltrp

Cafe Au Lait Pots De Crème http://tinyurl.com/npnnmyn

Dark Chocolate Pots De Creme - http://tinyurl.com/q527qy9

Savory cheesy custard (Mark Bittman's recipe)  http://tinyurl.com/pmn78h6

Pistachio and Saffron Diplomat Cream - http://tinyurl.com/o68r87s

The Creme Anglaise goes to Meeta's Monthly Mingle, hosted by Sally this month, the theme is Custard Dishes


Archana said...

Awesome !! I've seen this a lot in Masterchef Australia and the eggs did scare me out, it looks beautiful, especially over the fruits...will give this a shot !

Unknown said...

Sauce with cake...yummy combination

Nachiketa said...

Superb post Suma....
Love the pictures too
The detailing is noteworthy....
Have made Creme Anglaise as part of a Daring Bakers Challenge, Chocolate Pavlovas, Crème Anglaise n Mango Mascarpone Mousse
Your instructions are absolutely spot on....

The Variable, Crazy Over Desserts - Nachiketa
Catch me on facebook @ Crazy Over Desserts

Khaugiri said...

Wow it's really looking nice & tempting:-)

Priya Suresh said...

Love this sauce with chocolate cake, love it that much,well done SUma.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post! After reading it, I'm tempted to give it a try too. :)

Aarthi said...

WOW...Awesome recipe...Make me drool here..

Do visit my blog too

Tina said...

so creamy nd yummy...

divya said...

Wow it's really looking nice & tempting:-)

Myvegfare said...

looks gorgeous, I made these too..., quite a long time back, my kids loved it, it is so delicious, that's true everything home made is gorgeous, lovely clicks too suma