Pouring a tablespoon or two of silky, vanilla-scented Crème Anglaise into a classic soufflé turns it into the ultimate decadent dessert. It’s also the base for good French vanilla ice cream — all you have to do is properly freeze the custard. Scent with a liqueur, and pour over fruit for a fast and easy dessert...the variations are endless. Crème Anglais is a cousin of pastry cream, which is thickened using flour or cornstarch. Pastry cream works better as an ingredient in a tart as it sets up firmly enough to top. As a teacher, I always tell students that NOTHING is difficult to make, if you know what you’re doing — so if pulling off this recipe makes you nervous, here’s a step-by-step primer.
Like baking, sauce making has some precision to it. Scrambled custard is not a pretty or delicious thing. There are a few principal things to pay attention to, to have a smashing success. The first is to properly beat the yolks, so they get pale lemon colored and creamy before you add the hot liquid. The second is to temper the beaten yolks by pouring some or all of the hot liquid into them slowly, so you don’t scramble them; only then can you add the warmed egg yolks to the pot without worrying. Finally, you have to know when and how to stop the cooking before you scramble the sauce. My instructions, below, will get you to that perfect pitcher of delicious sauce.
You need a bit of equipment: A whisk, an accurate instant-read thermometer (this isn’t entirely necessary, as I’ll show you how to use your eyes and other senses to accurately assess when to stop cooking the custard), a strainer, and a good saucepan. Nothing with thin sides and a wedge bottom, please. Tri-ply is my preference, with the bottom and sides equally thick.
Crème Anglaise Recipe
Yield: about 2 cups (actually, a bit more than that); may be halved or doubled
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup Milk
3 oz. sugar
6 egg yolks
½ vanilla bean*
Set aside 1/4 cup of the milk. Combine the remaining milk and the cream in a medium-sized saucepan.
Split the vanilla bean down the center with the tip of a paring knife and scrape out as many of the seeds as possible. Place the seeds and vanilla pod into the milk mixture. Bring mixture just barely to a boil. Remove pan from the heat. Allow the mixture to stand for at least 10-20 minutes allowing the vanilla bean flavor to infuse into the milk.
While the mixture stands, prepare to finish the custard:
In a medium bowl beat the yolks and sugar together until the mixture has thickened and is a pale yellow color. This will take a couple of minutes of vigorous whisking (or use an electric mixer).
Slowly, whisking, add hot milk mixture to the egg mixture to temper the yolks. Then, while stirring constantly with a heat resistant spatula, add the mixture back into the pan.
Stir mixture constantly over medium-low heat until it is the consistency of heavy cream or until you can draw a line with your finger along the back of the spoon and have the mixture leave a trail. If the mixture stays separated and leaves a distinct path without the two sides running together the cream is finished; on a thermometer, you don’t want to go beyond 170°F.
Immediately add the reserved 1/4 cup of milk to stop the cooking quickly, which will prevent your custard from accidentally curdling it if it gets too hot.
Strain the finished cream through the fine mesh strainer. Use warm, or chill. To store, chill completely before covering (use an ice/water bath to hasten cooling if you want), and then keep tightly in the refrigerator.
*If using vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans, you can forego the standing time. Just add a teaspoon vanilla to the strained, cooked custard.
WHAT TO DO IF IT CURDLES
If you've not gone too far towards scrambling your eggs, try whirling in a blender for 20 seconds, then strain again. You'll know pretty quickly if you have a useable sauce, or need to start over!