So WordPress, being the kindly folks who host this place, invite me to write about Smooth….
And as I’m here to answer your questions about cookery (like I used to about computers but now you can eat your mistakes), I’ll answer the one about how to make smooth custard.
Crème anglaise, as it’s known in French, is an emulsion of egg yolks and milk; it’s dairy mayonnaise, if you like. Add in sugar instead of salt and, voilà. Vanilla pod scrapings give it a bit of flavour and added poshness.
OK, right. Egg yolks. So the quickest and easiest way is to crack the egg and allow the white to drain through your fingers. Unless the health inspector’s watching. Keep the whites for the future recipe on making meringues.
Well. Like all simplest things, there’s a lot to go wrong and when making custard it’s too easy to make it lumpy – the heat is too high, the egg yolks attract other bits of egg yolks and the fat content in the milk and there you go, custard like Grandma used to make.
So, do this. Use 10 egg yolks for one litre of milk (full fat, or a mix of full fat and cream is good). Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the milk and then add in the pod itself. Top tip: the flavour’s in the pod, mostly, not the seeds. Bring the milk to the boil while whisking together the egg yolks and the sugar – 100-200 grammes, depending on how sweet your tooth is.
While it’s heating, whisk the yolks and sugar until they reach the ribbon stage – all this means is that when you lift your whisk and waggle it over the surface of the liquid, it leaves a trail for a few seconds. Faire le ruban, they say in French to impress your friends. It won’t take long, a minute or so – less time than the milk takes to boil especially if you forget to cover the pan with a lid.
So, as the milk/cream comes to the boil pour it gently onto the yolks, all the time whisking the yolk mixture. Keep whisking. Then pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking it, turning the heat down to about half the maximum possible.
Change the whisk for a wooden spoon or spatula and stir in a figure of 8 to make sure you get into all the corners, and don’t stop.
Keep this up until the liquid will coat the back of your spoon/spatula thickly, and when you drag your finger across it (don’t forget to lick your finger clean) the trace stays clear like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Put the custard into a cool recipient and keep stirring. If your custard hasn’t already gone lumpy, this is when it will choose to do so. In professional kitchens we sometimes did the cooling down in a cold bain Marie or even an ice bath to hurry it along.
So if, despite all this, you get lumps like grandma made, get out your stick whisk mixer,the one you use to make soups smooth inside the saucepan. The giraffe, we call it in French restaurants as it has a long neck. And just mix the hell out of your recalcitrant custard.
If you have an evil and mean chef on your back you can instead choose to force the lumps through a fine sieve. This takes longer. Much longer. It also makes evil, mean chefs cackle a lot.
So, there you go. Smooth.