Custard, anyone…?

When I wrote about puddings the other week, I did suggest that custard was quite possibly the best accompaniment and that I would look at it another time… well, that time has come!

As I am sure you know, custard is based on a cooked mixture of milk or cream and egg yolk. Depending on how much egg or thickener is used, custard can vary in consistency from a thin pouring sauce, such as crème anglaise, to a thick pastry cream, or crème pâtissière, beloved of so many of today’s chefs, and used to fill éclairs.

Mixtures of milk and eggs thickened by heat have long been part of European cuisine and can be traced as far back as Ancient Rome – perhaps Caesar was a custard fan!?

Most common custards are used in desserts or as a sauce to accompany a pud and usually include sugar and vanilla. But you can also have a savoury custard which can be used for quiches and other savoury foods.

Custard is usually cooked in a double boiler (bain-marie), or heated gently in a saucepan on a stove, although it can also be steamed, baked in the oven with or without a water bath, or even cooked in a pressure cooker.

As anyone who has seen ‘The Great British Bake Off’ will know, creating a good custard is a delicate operation! A temperature increase of just 3–6°C leads to overcooking and curdling and Paul and Mary roll their eyes. Generally, custard begins setting at 70°C and a fully cooked custard should not exceed 80°C.

I am quite a custard fan, but making it from scratch is time-consuming. Nowadays, you can buy delicious fresh custard in pots in supermarkets in full fat or skinny options depending on your conscience. There is also good old Ambrosia tinned custard, always a handy option to keep in the cupboard for an emergency.

However… you do need the right custard for the job, instant, or otherwise. If you are making a trifle, do not do what I did many years ago and used tinned custard, it needs to be a custard that sets! My beautifully arranged cherries and piped cream all sank into the runny custard beneath and I ended up with a bowl full of mush that looked awful, although it tasted fine!

Bird’s Custard is a great way of making set custard quickly and easily and is just what you need in a trifle. However, it isn’t really a ‘proper’ custard at all… Bird’s Custard is the brand name for a powdered, egg-free imitation custard powder. It is a cornflour-based powder that thickens to form a custard-like sauce when mixed with milk and heated in a pan. Bird’s Custard was first formulated and cooked by Mr Alfred Bird in 1837 at his chemist shop, in Birmingham because his wife was allergic to eggs!

I think custard is a very personal thing. I was very nearly put off it for life at school when we were served a quartet of custards of varying degrees of hideousness at school. In order of awfulness they were:

  • White custard – just about bearable
  • Yellow custard – a bit sickly and often lumpy
  • Brown custard – very unpleasant to look at and having no relationship with chocolate at all
  • Pink custard – utterly, utterly vile and sickly with a peculiar smell and very often with a skin on top!!

But each to their own. Perhaps you prefer cream, or ice cream on your pud or were so traumatised by custard at school that you don’t ever want to see it again… I’d love to hear your thoughts!

7 replies
  1. Gwen Collinson says:

    Love custard but have to limit my intake of it as I am diabetic.
    Like Joanna says school custard left a lot to be desired.

  2. CHERYL Bingham says:

    Oh my goodness, Joanna, I’d forgotten all about the 3 types of custard served at school and I couldn’t agree more about the pink one. The boys used to turn the jug upside down to see how long it took before it moved! Ugh. I live in France now and buy the ready made creme anglaise here. It’s lovely.

  3. Susan Pearson says:

    I think the pink custard must have improved considerably with time (or was better further up north) as in the very late eighties at primary school it was something very much looked forward to as an accompaniment to chocolate pudding. In fact considered a rare treat.

  4. Margaret Hogg says:

    I liked the thin White custard at school, and to this day only like thin white custard. don’t like trifle with custard because it is too thick and too yellow.

  5. Mandy says:

    I LOVE CUSTARD!! There is nothing nicer than a bowl of my Mum’s fruit crumble with lots of custard, it’s so comforting & takes me back to my childhood.
    My school also served green minty custard with a chocolate tray bake which was really hard to cut but for some reason we all enjoyed it. (I probably wouldn’t be able to stomach it now though!

  6. Nannieannie says:

    Love custard especially the skin. Always a fight for that. School custard was enough to put you off custard for life. Thank goodness I already knew what custard should taste like.


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