Traditional English Custard - unlive cookery school

This is the ultimate custard, perhaps the traditional British sauce. I offer it here as it has been made down the centuries – with thick double cream, but you can, if you wish, modify this extravagance by using single cream or creamy whole milk. These last two might be better if the custard is for pouring, but for a trifle for a special occasion I recommend going the whole hog! It's now fashionable to split a vanilla pod and incorporate the seeds into the sauce – this reduces the time it needs to infuse in the hot cream. But I can also recommend pure vanilla extract, which is a wonderful storecupboard stand-by.

Serves 6-8

This recipe is taken from How to Cook Book One. It has also appeared in Sainsbury's Magazine (Apr 1998)

Traditional English Custard - unlive cookery school
 1 vanilla pod
 10 fl oz (275 ml) double cream
 3 large egg yolks
 1 teaspoon cornflour
 1 oz (25 g) golden caster sugar


Begin by splitting the vanilla pod lengthways and using the end of a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds. Then place the pod and the seeds in a small saucepan, along with the cream. Now place the pan over a gentle heat and heat it to just below simmering point.

While the cream is heating, whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a medium bowl using a balloon whisk. Next remove the vanilla pod from the hot cream. Then, whisking the egg mixture all the time with one hand, gradually pour the hot cream into the bowl.

When it's all in, immediately return the whole lot back to the saucepan using a rubber spatula. Now back it goes on to the same gentle heat as you continue whisking until the custard is thick and smooth, which will happen as soon as it reaches simmering point. If you do overheat it and it looks grainy, don't worry, just transfer it to a jug or bowl and continue to whisk until it becomes smooth again.

Pour the custard into a jug or bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool. To serve it warm later, remove the clingfilm and sit the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.

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