vanilla custard

Vanilla custard or Crème Anglaise is a staple for many desserts as well as breakfast specialties. It is a light pouring custard that can be used a dessert sauce, poured over cakes or fruits. The custard can be used for French toast or pain perdu and is the base for creamy ice cream or crème brûlée. It has a mild taste but a rich and thick vanilla flavor.

The custard in itself is not difficult to make, but it does require a fair amount of vigilance and care. The cream is made by whipping egg yolks and sugar together until the yolk is almost white and the batter forms pretty ribbons or until your arm gets tired (about 2 minutes), and then slowly adding hot milk, while whisking. The sauce is then cooked over low heat (otherwise the yolks will cook, resulting in scrambled eggs) and stirred constantly with a spoon until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and then removed from heat. If the sauce reaches to high a temperature, it will curdle. Then you are back to square one.

This sauce is easy to do and should definitely be in anyone's 'toolbox'.


Crème Anglaise (vanilla custard)

makes 3 cups


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 
  • 6 egg yolks, preferably organic free-range
  • ½ cup sugar


Pour the cream and milk into a heavy bottomed pan and place over low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add them to the creamy milk with the empty pod. Slowly bring to just below the boil, remove from heat and set aside to infuse for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a mixing bowl with a whisk until the mixture becomes thicker and paler. Gently reheat the creamy milk and pour on to the egg yolk mixture, stirring with the whisk as you do so.

Return the custard to the saucepan and place over the lowest possible heat. Stir gently and patiently until the custard thickens-this may take 10-15 minutes (don’t be tempted to increase the heat, or you’ll have scrambled eggs). It should be thick enough to lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Draw finger along the back of the spoon-it should leave a clear trace.

As soon as the custard thickens, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and allow to cool. Don’t leave it in the saucepan, as the heat of the pan will continue to cook the custard. Once cooled, the custard is ready to use or can be stored in the refrigerator. Sauce will keep for 4 days.