I will tell you right now, creating a custard is a skill check. It is super easy to go wrong and turn it into scrambled eggs. The good news is that you can get the hang of it pretty quickly. The bad news is that you will likely mess it up a few times.
But that’s OK!
It is all a part of learning, and you should not let the difficulty dissuade you. Using our guide will help you avoid the major pitfalls and give you an advantage. The sense of accomplishment you get from a successful custard is worth every minute.
The bakeshop encompasses much more than quick bread, yeast bread, or pastries. It can also produce delicious sweet concoctions that are not baked and are often not even cooked. These include custards, creams, cream or frozen custard, and dessert sauces. Sweet custards are defined as cooked mixtures of eggs, sugar, milk. Starch is available to thicken the liquid as well.
Custards are flavored in a variety of ways and eaten both hot and cold. Some are served alone as a dessert, and some are used in a filling or topping. They can even be an accompaniment for pies, pastries, and cakes. Creams include whipped cream. Other mixtures lightened with whipped creams like Bavarian creams, chiffons, and mousses. Sauces for desserts include fruit purees, caramel sauces, and chocolate syrups.
Tools and Resources
A factor in your success is ensuring your preparedness for your foray into the world of custards and creams. I have put together an easy list of equipment and tools to help you on your journey. I use products from Amazon that pays us a commission if you purchase a product through our links, at no cost to you. This helps us continue providing content. Whether you chose to use our links or not, thank you for your support and I hope you find this content worthwhile.
Ice Cream Maker
I recently picked up an ice cream maker for home use after using several commercial ice cream makers. I can say this one is one of my favorite and is built with good quality. My only complaint is the plastic churning apparatus, but then again I am using this once or twice a week. To check it out, click here.
Here is a common list of the required hand tools you will need along with our links. Not many of these warrant a recommendation, but I have chosen the best that Amazon has to offer.
What is custard? It is any liquid that is thickened by the coagulation of eggs. This thickening is called a liaison. Its consistency depends on the ratio of eggs to liquid and the kind of liquid being used. The more eggs that you use, the thicker and richer the final product will become. The richer the liquid (Such as cream instead of milk), the thicker the final product. Most custards, except for pastry creams, are not thickened by starch.
Custard can be stirred or baked. A stirred custard will tend to be softer, richer and creamier. A baked custard, that’s typically cooked in a bain-marie, is usually firm enough to slice.
Ice Cream or Frozen Custards
Some of the more decadent ice cream recipes will call for the custard made before insertion into an icecream maker. Doing this allows a thicker base for a much denser and rich finished product. Gelato is made in this method but is often thickened with corn starch exclusively rather than with a liaison.
The Difference Between a Frozen Custard, Ice Cream, and Gelato
Ice cream and gelato are custards that are churned during freezing. They can be flavored with an endless variety of fruits, nuts, extracts, liqueurs, and the like. Gelato is Italian-style ice cream. It is denser than American-style products because less air is incorporated during churning.
Frozen custard is ice cream, but not all ice cream is frozen custard
A big factor in ice cream grading is the ratio of milk fat and milk solids. Anything labeled “ice cream” must not have less than 10% milkfat and 20% milk solids and have no more than 50% “overrun”. Overrun is the amount of air churned into ice cream.
One hallmark of good ice cream and gelato is smoothness. The ice crystals that would normally form during freezing can be avoided by constant stirring or churning. Churning, usually done mechanically, also incorporates air into the product. The air causes the mixture to expand. Gelato has little incorporated air. Good quality ice creams and sorbets have enough air to make them light. Inferior products often contain overrun. The difference becomes obvious when equal volumes are weighed.
This is another reason why the more expensive ice creams often come in smaller containers. They have a much higher density which gives you a superior product.
The Bain-Marie (Double Boiler Method)
It’s recommended when working with custards to use a bain-marie. This technique allows the cook to have greater control over the temperature. This helps reduce the risk of unwanted coagulation.
A bain-marie can be made by placing a bowl over a simmering pot of water. The steam from the simmering water will rise up and heat the bottom of the bowl. This warms up the bowl in a consistent manner to eliminate burning. This is how chocolate can melt easier and how you thicken a custard.
If doing a baked custard, you would use a deep baking pan with parchment on the bottom. Then, fill it with hot water and place your dish within (I recommend a ramekin).
To make a stirred custard, cook on the stovetop either directly or over a double boiler. It must be stirred throughout the process to prevent curdling, which indicates overcooking.
Stirred custards can be used as a dessert sauce as well. Or incorporated into a complex dessert or eaten by itself.
Vanilla Custard Sauce (Creme Anglaise)
A typical custard sauce is made with egg yolks, sugar, and milk or cream. It is usually flavored with vanilla bean or pure vanilla extract. It can also be flavored with liquor, chocolate, ground nuts or other types of flavorings/extracts.
It is also prepared on the stovetop over direct heat. It is important to remember that when making a custard sauce that you are extremely careful to stir the mixture continually and not allow it to exceed 88’C (185’F) or it will curdle (scrambled eggs!). A properly made creme Anglaise should be smooth and thick. Enough to coat the back of a spoon (Also called nappe nap-eh). It should not contain any bits of cooked egg.
Vanilla custard sauce (Or creme Anglaise) is served with pastries, cakes, souffle’s, and fruits. is often used for decorating dessert plates in beautiful patterns. creme anglaise that is thicker than average is also the basis for many ice creams.
A very thick version of this sauce can be made using 35% cream and more egg yolks. It is consistency is more like a pudding than a sauce. This custard is served over fruit or in a small serving bowl like a ramekin. Then, topped with caramelized sugar for a dessert known as creme brulee.
A classic custard recipe used as a base for further sauces.
Using your heavy non-reactive saucepan, bring the cream and vanilla bean to just a boil
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Temper the eggs with approximately 1/3 of the hot cream, then return the entire mixture to the saucepan with the remaining cream.
Cook the sauce over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow this mixture to boil.
As soon as the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and put it through a fine-mesh strainer to remove any partial coagulation. Chill the sauce over an ice bath and cover and keep refrigerated.
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Pastry creams is a stirred custard made with egg yolks, sugar, milk, and thickened with corn starch. Because starch protects the egg yolks from curdling, pastry cream can be boiled. In fact, it must be boiled to gelatinize the starch and cut the taste of the starch.
Pastry cream can also be flavored with chocolate, liquors, fruits, or extracts. In fact, pudding is nothing more than flavored pastry cream! It is also used as a filling for eclairs, cream puffs, napoleons, fruit tarts, and other pastries. Pastry cream is also the filling for cream pies. Pastry cream is thick enough to hold its shape without making pastry dough soggy.
Pastry cream is quite heavy. You can reduce this by folding in whipped cream to produce a mousseline. Italian meringue can also be folded in to produce creme Chiboust.
Classic Pastry Cream
A deliciously thickened dessert cream commonly known as pudding, pastry cream is a must-have in any bakers repertoire.
Dilute the cornstarch and 1/2 the sugar with 250 mL (8 fl oz) of cold milk, egg yolks, and whole eggs. Whisk until the mixture is very smooth.
Bring the remaining milk and sugar to a boil.
Blend the 2 mixtures together gradually, stirring constantly.
Place the mixture back onto the heat and cook for a few minutes stirring constantly until thickened.
Remove from the heat and stir in butter and vanilla.
Cover with plastic film (So it touches the cream) and cool over an ice bath
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A Sabayon is a foamy stirred custard made from whisking eggs, sugar, and wine over low heat. The white wine is the key element in this dessert. The egg proteins will coagulate, thickening the mixture while the whisking incorporates air to make a light and fluffy texture. Sweet wine is usually used; Marsala and Champagne are the most popular choices.
a sabayon can be served warm, or it can be chilled. Sabayon may be served alone or as a sauce or topping with fruit or pastries such as sponge cake or ladyfingers.
This recipe makes an incredibly airy and complex sabayon made with champagne instead of white wine.
Combine the egg yolks and sugar in your stainless steel bowl
Add champagne and juice to the egg mixture.
Place bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water for a bain marie. Whisk vigorously until the sauce is thick and pale yellow, approx. 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
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Making a custard baked is based on the same principles as a stirred custard, as both are thickened by the coagulation of egg proteins. However, with a baked custard the thickening occurs in an oven rather than over a stove. The baking container, whether a ramekin or larger baking dish, is usually placed into a water bath or a bain-marie. This is to ensure the temperature is controlled as much as possible to protect the egg from curdling.
Care must be taken even though in a bain-marie the temperature never rises above 100’C (212’F). Too hot an oven or cooked for too long can cause it to become watery or curdled. A properly made baked custard should be smooth-textured and firm enough to slice.
How to Tell when a Baked Custard is Done
A baked custard is a lot like a souffle in the sense that it needs to cool before it solidifies enough to be held by its own weight. This is especially true when it comes to cheesecakes. There are three ways to tell when a baked custard is done: by time, lightly shaking, and the knife method.
Time. Following the recipe until the dish has achieved its time need. This is your first indicator.
By lightly shaking the pan, you can gauge if the consistency of the dish is solid or still liquid. This is a very nuanced approach and requires experience. Knowing how to differentiate between a cooked and undercooked custard is important. Take note the next time you complete the recipe. This will help give yourself a good reference for future attempts.
The knife method is the most accurate, but, it can ruin the presentation of the dessert. If you are cooking for family or yourself, it can be forgiven but in a professional setting, this is a sign of an unconfident amateur. Simply use a knife inserted into the top of the custard to see if anything remains on the knife when you remove it. Anything on it should be slightly solidified and not runny or liquid.
A creme caramel, creme renversee, and flan all refer to an egg custard baked over a layer of caramelized sugar and inverted for serving. The caramelized sugar produces a golden-brown surface on the flan and a thin caramel sauce.
Taking what you learned about how to make a custard from above, a creme caramel would have caramel placed into the bottom of the ramekin with the creme Anglaise poured over it, cooked in a bain-marie. When finished and cooled, it would be turned upside down to be removed and the creme caramel would then come out as well. An alternative to this is to add the caramel to the dessert right before serving.
Cheesecakes are almost as old as Western civilization itself. They have undergone many changes and variations since the ancient Greeks created the first known recipe. Americans revolutionized the dessert with the development of cream cheese in 1872.
Cheesecake is a baked custard that contains a smooth cheese, usually a soft fresh cheese such as cream, ricotta, cottage or farmer cheese. Cheesecake might be prepared without a crust or it could also have a base or sides of the short dough, cookie crumbs, nuts, etc. The filling can be dense and rich (New York style), or light a fluffy (Italian style). Fruit, nuts and other flavorings may also be included in the filling. Cheesecakes are often topped with fruit or a sour cream glaze.
Cheesecakes require special cookware called a springform pan. These are a must if you want to attempt a cheesecake. It is best not to get a cheap or no-name brand as they could leak. I recommend picking up a good quality pan, and if you would like to see my recommendation, click here to view it on Amazon.
A home-style dessert in which chunks of bread, flavorings, and raisins or other fruit are mixed with an egg custard and baked. The result is somewhat a cross between a cake and a pudding. It is sometimes served with custard sauce, ice cream, or whipped cream. Bread pudding is a delicious way to use stale bread or overripe fruit.
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