Saturday 27 February 2016

English custard... in under six minutes.

All hail English custard.

Honestly. Proper, rich, creamy, English custard. Somehow milk and egg yolks combine with vanilla to make the most delicious food balm known to humanity. Custard restores sanity in a world of stress and taxes. Who doesn't love it? Who doesn't hate making it? 

Well, no longer. I can make it in under six minutes, perfectly, every time. I've done this at least a dozen times now. With witnesses. I've even timed it on the last few occasions to ensure no false claims. You will need a food temperature probe though. Look, it's not big deal. I saw one for nine pounds last time I went to CostCo.
Yes, I know it's nice. But...

Normally a recipe will tell you to add milk to sugar and egg yolks and then slowly... SLOWLY, stirring constantly, increase the heat until the mixture thickens to a custard. Invariably what happens is you stir, stir, stir over too low a heat for an hour with no material change, until frustration and tedium compels you to whack the heat up too high and within seconds you have sweet milk and scrambled eggs. You throw the split mix away in sweary pique while reaching for the cheat's tin of Ambrosia.

First some science. Custard thickens because the yolks change their physical form around 65°C and are firmly set by 80°C. However, sugar will inhibit this setting. We all know this from peering into hard boiled eggs. In a custard you are trying to take this change half way and then stop it, blending the thickening yolk into the sweetened milk to make a sauce. Too far and the egg will separate out into solid particles. Not enough and you have... well, milk and wet egg.

The classic recipes were conceived when we had no way of knowing, accurately, the temperature of the mix. But now we do. So why, I wondered, don't I heat up the milk and sugar quickly, almost to the setting point of the yolks and THEN add them? No more endless stirring. 

It works. Well why wouldn't it? And seriously, in under six minutes. And this is not some tricksy Jamie Oliver style timing, where you have already spent ten minutes weighing all the ingredients and laying out a damp tea towel (for some reason Jamie seems to have slippery bowls). This is six minutes from wanting custard to eating custard. Presuming you're in the kitchen when you want it. If you're in the street, you're knackered.

Six minute English custard.
Serves one - so long as you don't tell your family. Around 400ml depending on how much cream you add at the end.

In a jug, measure 250ml of full fat milk. To the jug add 130g caster sugar. Put this in a  nice heavy pan on a medium burner, full heat. The amount of heat is important. Don't burn the milk. I use this one. If you're electric, you're on your own.

I cleaned this specially for the photo.
While the sugary milk is heating, break four large egg yolks into the jug and give them a quick whisk. Keep the whites for something else. Now use your probe to check the temperature of the milk. It's probably around 65°C (150F) unless you are very cack handed with eggs. When the milk gets to between 72 - 75°C (160-167F), pour the yolks in and whisk briskly. Now turn the heat down to half and stir with a wooden spoon. Keep the surface smooth, it helps you to spot the tell tale bubbles of doom.

Within two minutes the custards should start to thicken to the classic 'coat the back of a spoon' condition. If it doesn't, call me and we'll talk it through. Bubbles will alert you that you're at splitting stage. Now stir in 100ml (or more) of double cream. (heavy cream for our American friends). This lowers the heat and stops the eggs scrambling.

For clarification: I don't mean bubble as in boil, bubbles in custard start to appear around 80°C (175F). But I've taken custard well above 85°C without it splitting.

Add a teaspoon full of vanilla paste/extract or scrape the seeds out of a pod (and bung in the scraped pod to infuse until you serve) and heat gently. A perfectionist/proper chef would now strain it to remove any yolky precipitate. I leave that to your conscious.

That's it. We're done. You can now sit on the sofa with a pan of custard, licking it off the wooden spoon like some kind of desperate, middle aged hobo. I'm saying you can; it's not a recommendation. Personally, I never would.

You could also whisk in a couple of teaspoons of cornflour slaked in a little cold water. This will allow you to reheat the custard (what custard!?) without fear of splitting.

Another idea is to stir in 80g of the best cocoa powder you can find to make hot chocolate custard. There are few things finer.

Or... you could chill it and then churn it into ice cream. There's a thought.

1 comment :

  1. Yum yum and yum again - will give it a go. I adore custard and apple tart. Feel cheated if anything else is offered with an apple tart! X