My job gives me a lot of interesting opportunities. There are a lot of things that we do in a club, that you would probably not do at home. Obviously some of those are based on the equipment, and space available, time, or simply thinking that it is too hard. One of those things is creme anglaise. It is usually found on dessert plates, a sauce that adds an amazing vanilla flavor to a desert. Its not something that is needed, but it adds a very nice touch. If you have a special occasion a sauce like this can make a great impression! Of course what most people don’t really realize is that it is very easy to make, and that it is also gluten-free. Another great thing about creme anglaise is that it has other uses beyond making dessert plates look nice. With a little bit of adjustment it can be dessert!
1 quart half and half
8oz sugar divided
12 egg yolks
Those are your ingredients! Simple… Equipment-wise, there’s a bit more to it!
1 metal bowl
double boiler (or a second metal bowl)
(The ice bath in the picture is optional, but nice for cooling things off quickly. I’d use one.)
First split the vanilla beans, and scrape out the insides. Then place half of the sugar, the half and half, and the vanilla beans in the pot, and bring them up to a simmer. Put the other pot on the stove with an inch of water in it, and bring it up to a simmer as well.
While that is going, place the yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl, and whisk. The yolks will thicken, and lighten in color.
This is where things start to get a little tricky. You’ve got hot dairy, and cold eggs, and you need to put them together. This can easily turn into sweet vanilla flavored scrambled eggs, and that is just not what you want most of the time. (Ever?) That means that we need to temper the eggs into the half and half. To do that ladle a small amount of the dairy into the eggs while whisking, and don’t stop. If you touch the side of the bowl you’ll notice that the temperature of the eggs has come up a bit. Keep combining the two until the eggs are fairly warm, and then pour the eggs back into the half and half, and whisk them together.
Now strain the mix into a second bowl or the top of your double boiler, and place it over the simmering water. Put down the whisk, pick up the spatula, and gently stir the custard. Don’t try to rush the process by turning up the heat. You need to make sure that you keep the spatula in contact with the bottom of the bowl, otherwise you’ll have scrambled eggs. As it cooks, you’ll notice that the mixture lightens slightly in color, and thickens. You are looking for the mixture to coat the back of a spoon. This is what the French call nappe. Dip a spoon into the cooking custard, and then wipe the back of it with your finger. When it is done the custard will not recover the area you wiped. Taste it!
Once the custard is ready get it off the heat. This is one of those things that you need to get cooled as quickly as possible. Strain your custard into your storage container. Do not skip the straining! Nobody wants scrambled egg bits in their dessert! To make the ice bath, put your storage container in a larger bowl. Fill the outer bowl with ice, sprinkle salt on the ice, and then carefully fill the outer container with water. The water around your custard will end up significantly below freezing. Stirring the custard will help cool it, and prevent the eggs from continuing to cook.
What can you do with this? The obvious choice is to decorate plates. Or you could make some meringue, and you would be able to create île flottante or floating islands. (You’ve got egg whites left!)
Another option is ice cream. When I make ice cream I add a quart of cream, and slightly cut back on the sugar, and cook it the same way. If you do make ice cream let the custard cool overnight before trying to freeze it. This will give you a better texture. When you’re making your own ice cream the sky is the limit as far as flavor goes. I’ve made port poached pear ice cream, carrot cake ice cream, and several others.
A similar process will make a curd. A curd is similar to a custard, but eggs are cooked with an acidic liquid. Typically citrus juices are used. Then butter is incorporated. They are very tasty!
Obviously, this is not an everyday kind of thing, but it is a simple way to take a nice dessert, and make it extra special! Besides, if you’re having dessert there’s a good chance it is a special occasion. Why not actually make it special!