Knowing how to make custard is an essential skill for a variety of custard desserts, including cream pies, crème brûlée, flan, and frozen custard. At its most basic, custard is a carefully heated mixture of hot milk or cream and egg yolk. Making custard can be a delicate process; overheating will cause the mixture to curdle. Don't fret, though. You can master the art of custard-making with these tips.
Stirred custard differs from baked custard in that it uses only egg yolks and is constantly stirred. A baked custard uses whole eggs and is baked in a water bath without stirring.
The key to smooth, creamy custard lies in how you cook and stir it. The milk and egg mixture in a custard recipe should be cooked over medium heat while stirring continuously. Never walk away from a pan of custard on the stove! If you rush, you will end up with big pieces of overcooked yolk.
One trick to ensure even cooking is to stir in a figure eight motion. You'll know it's finished when the mixture becomes thick and bubbly., and just coats the back of a clean metal spoon. Another way to check for doneness is to run a finger over the back of your stirrer. If the line holds, you're all set. If it's still runny, continue to cook and stir.
Always check the recipe; some call for tempering the eggs to prevent them from scrambling. If you find that your custard is lumpy, no worries. It can be salvaged by straining the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve to catch any cooked egg pieces.
Additional flavorings: Sugar gives custard desserts their sweetness, and they're often flavored with vanilla or other spices. These may include cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, or cocoa powder.
Thickeners: Cornstarch or gelatin may be added for a thicker custard. These are either heated along with the mixture or added to the already-hot liquid. Generally, use 1 tablespoon cornstarch for each cup of liquid.
Once you've created a smooth, lump-free custard with your desired added flavors, it needs to chill. To avoid the dreaded skin forming on top of your custard, cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap down into the bowl until it touches the custard mixture.
Here's a simple custard recipe to get you started. It's a classic vanilla custard, but you can experiment with other flavors, too. For a fruit custard, serve over fresh fruit. Berries are a popular choice. To make a chocolate custard, prepare as directed, but add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder to the mixture. Whisk if needed to evenly distribute the powder.
Now that you have the technique down, serve one of these sweet treats for dessert at your next dinner party. Your guests will be so impressed by your custard skills!
Coffee Custard Cups (shown above)