Custard and crème anglaise:

I love custard.

Custard is something described as being a bland yet sweet sauce for desserts. Being subtle in flavour to compliment the dessert rather than overpowering it.

Having said that I still love custard or as the French call it crème anglaise, which translates to English Cream.

I even have fond memories of school custard. I know, usually anything to do with school meals is derided at. Consistent it wasn’t. One day it could be runny and another it could be thick and chunky. I even remember the large aluminium serving jugs lined up waiting to be decanted on the suspecting Childs pudding.

If a new just was about to come on stream. Not that it was always easy for the dinner ladies to pour. (sorry about using the term ladies, but back when I was at school the kitchens and servers were all women). I can vividly remember a pallet knife being used on a new jug to sever the meniscus skin of the custard around the perimeter from the inner wall of the jug. I used to relish watching this process hopefully just before I was served with the fresh contents. I also hoped that it would be the thick variety that kept the skin in tacked. If so the skin would detach and pouring directly onto my eagerly awaiting pudding.

Some of you will almost be gripping in revulsion of this description. Why would anyone be excited at the custard skin lying on the surface of your hot pudding. Yeah I know weird; but to me it was a delight.

In some ways the pudding was secondary. Although I do remember with fondness the plum crumble as a particular favourite of mine back then. Rhubarb pie or crumble from the Yorkshire Rhubarb triangle are another delightful vessel for custard.

There was also the occasional cold set custard with chunks of banana in individual dishes. Oh and another favourite of mine cold set chocolate custard with tinned pears and a dollop of fresh cream as a garnish.

Custard is so versatile whether made with eggs or with custard powder. Custard powder was invented by Alfred Bird in his chemist shop in Birmingham in 1837. He invented it because his wife like puddings but was allergic to eggs. Many think it was invented during WW1 or 2 when eggs were rationed and kept to feed the troops.

It shouldn’t be confused with blancmange, which is usually a set cold pudding with a similar texture to cold set custard (powdered variety). The original blancmange or blancmengier dates back over 800 years to France. It translates to “white eating”, as it was a white set pudding. Early versions also included shredded poultry.

Custard is not just the hot pouring type. You may also be familiar with the custard tart. Basically a shortcrust pastry case filled with custard made with eggs and cooked until set. A sprinkling of nutmeg finishing this delightful tart. A Portuguese version can also be found in supermarkets usually with a flaky pastry case, sweeter custard and no nutmeg.

But it’s not always confined to being a sweet tart. Quiches are also essentially an unsweetened custard in a pastry case with added savoury Ingredients. These can range from salmon, vegetables such as broccoli and meats such as sausages and bacon. In fact pretty much anything can be added.

Another delightful custard treat is a Manchester tart. It comprises a sweet pastry case with jam at the bottom and custard on top, then finished with a sprinkling of desiccated coconut.

An off the wall option is warm custard drizzled (well I really mean a drench), over a Yorkshire putting as a dessert. Try it. It also goes down really well with jam, treacle or fruit on the Yorkshire pudding prior to pouring over the custard.

One new discovery I recently made was at the world showcase at Disney World EPCOT. The Norwegian pavilion was showcasing their School bread as part of the food and wine festival. The “Skolebrød” as it’s called in Norway is a sweet bread with a vanilla custard filling with a glazed finish dusted with toasted coconut and topped with a vanilla frosting. 

It’s name comes from the fact that it’s taken to school in packed lunches in Norway, or so I’m told. It’s a delight as the centre is packed with custard, the bread there as a container rather than it being the centre stage.

The more I think about custard the more items come into my head. Even the simple custard cream biscuits, custard doughnuts and the classic fruit trifle with the obligatory layer of custard need a mention. Yeah, I loved it.

It gets even more interesting if you look at culinarily delights that might not be classed as classic custard, but in my opinion are relations. Let’s begin with crème caramel; essential a set custard over a caramel base that becomes the top when turned out onto a plate.

Then there’s the classic Crème brûlée, similar to crème caramel but with a hard layer caramelised sugar on the top.

Then there’s the classic vanilla custard. Oh, I could keep on going, but you should get the gist my now.

I love custard.


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