Custards Aren’t Hard To Make. Promise. (2024)

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Basically….. a custard is a culinary preparation made by thickening a liquid with eggs.

Custard gets it’s creamy goodness by the coagulation of egg proteins, which is achieved by gently heating the custard in some way. It can be baked, simmered, or boiled. It can be blended with thickeners and piped into eclairs or frozen into ice cream… Yummmm

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The Textbook Definitions You Should Know

A custard is an egg and liquid mixture that is thickened by the coagulation of eggs and sometimes starch. Custards must be handled carefully, as they are quite delicate. If a custard begins to overheat, it can curdle, or develop lumps. While some curdled custards may be saved by straining them into a container over an ice-water bath, it is usually necessary to discard a curdled custard.

There are three types of custard: baked, stirred, and frozen.

Baked custards include bread pudding, flan, and cheesecake, and are prepared by baking in an oven or water bath.

Boiled Custards include beverages like eggnog.

Stirred custards are generally prepared by stirring them over a double boiler, or in some cases over a direct flame

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Stirred Custards

Puddings, creme anglaise (krem on-GLAYZ), and pastry cream are some examples of stirred custards. Frozen custards include egg and liquid mixtures that have been cooked and frozen. All flavors of ice cream are examples of frozen custards.

Some of our favorite desserts depend on being able to make a good stirred custard. To make you an adequate chef, we need to focus on three main ones:

Creme Anglaiseis a pouring custard – a runny version of pastry cream. It isn’t typically thickened with a starch (although you can use a little cornstarch to avoid scrambling), and only uses eggs/egg yolks. It’s a thick sauce that can be poured over desserts. This custard isn’t heated to a boil to avoid eggs scrambling or curdling. Creme Anglaise is sometimes referred to as “vanilla sauce.”

Creme Chantillyis lightly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and (usually) flavored with vanilla.

Creme Patissiereis a thicker custard, frequently referred to as “pastry cream.” It’s thickened using flour or cornstarch and eggs/egg yolks and can be piped. It’s mostly used to fill pastries and other desserts. Pastry cream is heated to a boil, so that the flour thickens well. Because of the starch, the eggs don’t curdle readily. Creme Patissiere forms the basis for many souffle recipes. Pastry cream, as a basic preparation, is part of the mise en place for many kitchen desserts.

Most “fancy” dessert sauces are in reality just variations of one of these three. For example, you can make delicate Bavarian cream by combining three basic ingredients: vanilla sauce (creme anglaise, gelatin, and whipped cream. Here’s how you do it: combine the vanilla sauce with the dissolved gelatin while it is still warm. Then, cool this mixture over an ice-water bath until it mounds slightly when dropped from a spoon. Fold whipped cream into the mixture and pour it into molds. Voila! Bavarian Cream!

You make Sabayon by making creme anglaise, skipping the milk and heavy cream and instead adding sweet marsala wine. The result is a light custard with a foamy texture.

Sabayon is the French version of the Italian custard zabaglione. Both are traditionally served over fresh fruit. Sabayon is also the base for several mousses and buttercreams. It’s not a real Sabayon without the wine… but you can make many alcohol-free versions and they are all good. Mostly.

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All the Major Stirred Custard Variations (and there are a lot of them)

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  • mousse = base + whipped cream/meringue + stabilizer
  • bavarian/ bavarois/ crème bavaroise = creme anglaise + gelatin + whipped cream
  • blancmange = milk/cream + gelatin
  • crème anglaise = milk/cream + egg yolks
  • crémeux = crème anglaise + base (optional) + gelatin
  • chiboust = pastry cream + meringue
  • crème legere = pastry cream + whipped cream
  • crème diplomat = pastry cream + whipped cream + gelatin
  • crème mousseline = pastry cream + butter/buttercream

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STIRRED: The Three Big Dogs of the Custard World


Creme Anglaise

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 2 inch vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar


  • Combine milk and cream in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Bring milk mixture to simmer. Remove from heat. Add extract if using.

  • Whisk egg yolks and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot milk mixture into yolk mixture. Return custard to saucepan. Stir over low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 5 minutes (do not boil).

  • Strain sauce through fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Cover and chill. (Can be made 1 day ahead.)


Crème Pâtissière

Pastry cream used to makeclassic profiteroles, cream puffs, to fillchocolate eclairs, as filling for cakes, like Boston cream pie, as filling for fruit tarts, to makemille feuille, and to make vanilla pudding or chocolate pudding (among others).


  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk


  • Whisk together sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl until mixture is pale yellow and “makes ribbons,” 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; whisk until smooth.

  • Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk to egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan.

  • Bring to a boil over medium, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes. Boil mixture, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Mixture can be chilled, covered, for up to 3 days.


Chantilly Cream

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar sifted
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract


  • Lightly beat the cream in a chilled stainless steel bowl with a large balloon whisk until it begins to thicken.

  • Add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat until the cream is very stiff and stands in firm peaks when it is lifted from the bowl.

  • Refrigerate until ready to use.



Lemon Pots de Creme

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • Finely grated zest of 4 lemons
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3-1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean seeds scraped and pod reserved or 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 10 large egg yolks
  • Chantilly Cream for garnish
  • Candied citrus peel for garnish


Mis en Place:

  • Put a large pot of water on to boil for the water bath. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F. Put eight 6-oz. ramekins in a large roasting pan or baking dish with high sides.

Make the Syrup:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the lemon zest, juice, and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 15 minutes; set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the vanilla seeds and pod (if you’re using vanilla extract, don’t add it yet) and bring to just below boiling. Remove from the heat.

Temper the Eggs:

  • In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until smooth. Gently whisk a ladleful of the hot cream into the yolks and then whisk the yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the cream. Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the reserved lemon syrup and strain immediately through cheesecloth or a fine sieve. If you’re using vanilla extract, stir it in now.


  • Divide the mixture among the ramekins in the roasting pan. Pull out the oven shelf, put the roasting pan on it (be sure it’s stable), and pour enough boiling water into the pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the ramekins with a sheet of foil (simply lay the sheet on top, don’t crimp the edges) and bake for 25 to 45 minutes—start checking early—until the custards are set about 1/4 inch in from the sides, the centers respond with a firm jiggle (not a wavelike motion) when you nudge the ramekins, and the centers of the custards register 150° to 155°F on an instant-read thermometer (the hole left by the thermometer will close up as the custards firm).


  • Let the custards cool to room temperature in their water bath. Remove the custards from the bath, cover them with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Garnish with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and candied zest


Candied Citrus Peel

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • Peel of 4-8 citrus fruits
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light corn syrup


Prep Rind

  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel just the zest off of your fruit. Try to get as little of the bitter white pith as possible.

  • Trim the white pith from the peel if need be. Flatten the peel on a cutting board and carefully shave the white part from the zest.

  • Cut the zest into long strips about 1/4 inch wide.

  • Place peels in a saucepan and add cold water just to cover; bring the mixture to a boil; strain

  • Note: For lemons, repeat 2 more times; for grapefruit, repeat 4 times, for oranges, once is enough.

Candy Citrus Rind

  • In the same saucepan combine the sugar and water, stir to hydrate. Add your corn syrup. Return the peels to the saucepan and cook over low heat.

  • Simmer peels for 1-2 hours or until they are translucent but still retain their color. They should be soft and sweet with just a little bit of chew. If your cooking liquid no longer covers your zest at any point just add a little water.

  • You can store the candied zest in the cooking liquid (refrigerated) or to crystallize, strain the zest, place on a rack or plate and allow to cool until tacky. Then toss in about ¼ cup finely ground sugar. Cool and store in a cool, dry place until ready to use.



Course Dessert

Cuisine Spanish

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards


  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 14 ounce sweetened condensed milk
  • 12 ounce evaporated milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract


  • Preheat oven to 350*F

  • In a saucepan over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color. Carefully portion hot syrup into 6 ramekins, turning to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.

  • In a large bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour egg mixture into baking dish.

  • Place ramekins in shallow baking dish and fill with boiling water until it comes halfway up the sides. Lightly cover with aluminum foil or parchment.

  • Bake for 50 – 60 minutes or until edges are set and while center still jiggles. Let cool completely.

  • To serve, run a paring knife around edges, then carefully invert on serving plates when completely cool.


Southern Chocolate Chess Pie

Course Dessert

Cuisine American

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • 1 9-inch pie shell
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • Pre-heat the oven to 375*F.

  • Line the unbaked pie shell with foil or parchment paper and add pie weights or dried beans to about two-thirds full.

  • Place the pie shell in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the pie weights and the foil or parchment paper.

  • Return the pie shell to the oven for about 5 minutes, or just until it begins to show a little color. Remove the pie shell to a rack and set aside.

  • Reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.

  • Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add the butter and chocolate; stir until melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the pan.

  • To the melted chocolate and butter mixture, add the sugar, flour, salt, milk, eggs, and vanilla. Beat for about 5 minutes with an electric mixer. Stop and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula a few times.

  • Pour the filling into the prepared pie shell.

  • Bake at 350 F for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is set. The filling will be puffed up, but it will flatten as it cools.

  • If the pie appears to be browning too much, place a pie shield or foil ring over the edge of the pie crust. Remove the pie to a rack to cool completely.

  • Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.


Mille-Feuille – Napoleons

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Keyword Culinary 3, Custards, Pastry


  • Make pastry cream. Chill.

  • Make Royal icing; dilute some by whisking in milk to create flood icing

  • Roll out puff pastry

  • Cut slices for napoleon; either several big napoleons or smaller slices for individually-sized servings.

  • Place onto parchment paper

  • Cover with a second sheet of parchment and a heavy pan to keep puff pastry from "puffing" during baking

  • Bake for about11 minutes at 400*Frotating the pan halfway through.

  • Cool puff pastry completely. Use a sharp knife tosquare the edgesoff after baking for a perfect edge.

  • Assemble ingredients – chilled patissier cream, fillings, royal icing, chocolate ganache or fruit glaze, etc.

  • Layer each piece of puff pastry with pastry cream in an even layer from edge to edge. If adding additional fillings, place them on top of the pastry cream layer.

  • Continue layering Mille-Feuille

  • Use thick royal icing to trace edge. Use flood icing to cover center of the Mille-Feuille

  • While the royal icing is still wet, use a pastry bag and apply thin lines of chocolate ganache or glaze

  • Use a toothpick or the tip of a paring knife and pull through the royal icing in alternating directions.

  • Serve.

Further Reading

HOW-TO: Custards


Custards Aren’t Hard To Make. Promise. (2024)
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