The Case of the Convincing Custard
With Thanksgiving around the corner, I thought that we’d stay away from the Turkey (although, more on that in the next issue) and focus on one of my other favorite things to eat during the Thanksgiving meal -- custard. We eat them often, sometimes without even realizing it. Some are sweet, others salty and they are usually sumptuous and make us want that next bite.
The first matter of business is to define what is a curd or custard. We will define them as a liquid thickened by eggs. Sometimes other thickeners are added too, but by definition, they must contain egg. People are usually intimidated by the process of making homemade custard, but keep reading and you will be fearlessly bringing on the curd to your extended family potluck.
The quintessential classic custard would be a creme anglaise (English cream).
2 cup whole milk (or half and half or parve creamer/milk)
½ + 2 tbs cup sugar
½ cup egg yolk (or whole)
2 tsp real vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
Method 1. Mix everything together. Heat very gently until just thickened. Today we can double check things with a thermometer. Goal is 180F. Over 160 it is safe to eat.
Method 2. Mix eggs and sugar. Scald milk in the pot. Drizzle slowly and mix vigorously the hot milk into the egg mixture. As the egg mixture warm you can add the hot milk faster. Once most of the milk is added to the eggs you can reverse the pouring and move the entire batch back into the pot and finish it on the stove on medium low heat. Cook until just thickened. Goal is 180F. Over 160 it is safe to eat.
The second method uses a technique called tempering eggs (not to be confused with chocolate). In this technique the egg portion is heated gently enough that they don’t curdle (scramble). If we would pour all the milk into the eggs we would get little bits of egg scramble in your vanilla sauce giving a gritty unpleasant texture.
Now that you made a vanilla sauce now what? Well there are many variations you can do that use the same method.
Freeze Creme Anglaise in your ice cream maker and you will have traditional vanilla ice cream. For Pastry cream, a close relative to vanilla pudding add ⅓ cup corn, potato starch, tapioca or arrowroot starch and cook until it just breaks a boil stirring constantly. Cool immediately in ice bath to prevent lumps of over cooked eggs. For a double chocolate creme anglaise add ¼ cup of cocoa powder and 2 oz dark chocolate.
We can even use the same ingredients to make a baked sweet custard. Mix it up and bake in ramekins for the custard of creme brulee or steep the hot milk on whole coffee beans before mixing up the custard base for the coffee pot de creme. Garnish with a chocolate covered espresso bean. Or fill a pie with a chocolate pastry cream base for a chocolate tart. Note! The trick to a these baked custard is a water bath. Set the vessel(s) on a pan with a lip in your hot oven. Fill the pan with near boiling water until about halfway up the sides of your custard dishes. Bake at 325F for 40-60 min depending on size. This water is a buffer for the heat to make sure you don't overcook the custards. When you do you will know it because the texture will be unpleasant.
Other common curds you will find
Pecan pie ( sugar in an egg curd)
Stuffing is traditionally a savory baked custard. We don't need a water bath for it like the others. A little curdled egg will be just fine. Keep some high quality leftover bread in large cubes dried or toasted. Sourdough bread makes a great stuffing. You should use a bread that you enjoy eating. I pre saute my vegetables on high heat for 3-5 min. I want them a little under done so that there is some texture to the stuffing.
Method: Saute vegetables, mix in bread cubes, put in baking dish (greased will help clean up). Heat stock and herbs, use to temper eggs. Ladle stock mixture onto the bread and vegetables. You should be able to see some of the liquid in the dish. There is no need to add it all. Let sit 5-10 minutes for bread to soak up stock. Bake 30-60 minutes depending on the dimensions of your dish. Enjoy my personal fall guilty pleasure.
¼ cup oil
½ cup diced onions
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup shiitake mushrooms
2 lbs Bread cubed dried or toasted, sourdough works especially well but use a bread you enjoy.
2 qts stock
5 whole eggs
1-2 tsp dry sage
3 bay leaves (Don’t eat!)
½ tsp thyme
½ tsp oregano
Salt (add salt to the vegetables while sauteing to draw out moisture, add to stock to flavor the whole dish)
Egg size matters! I use large eggs. You might like Jumbo. Keep that in mind while making all recipes and add more or less of that ingredient that you personally vary.