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Custards 101

custard recipes

Cheesecake, ice cream, pudding...these creamy desserts are all custards, a family of dishes that’s surprisingly large. There are three categories of custards: basic ones thickened only with egg, those thickened with starch (like flour or cornstarch), and those set with gelatin. Learn about the tricks to getting each type just right, or read on for more than a dozen delicious examples from all three categories.

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Crème Anglaise

A classic dessert sauce of milk, cream, and sugar thickened with egg, recipes for crème anglaise vary quite a bit in their proportions. This one is neither too rich nor too milky, and it’s thickened without tasting eggy. Plus, there’s virtually no end to the ways you can flavor it.

recipe: Crème Anglaise

Ice Cream

Freeze a crème anglaise, and you have ice cream. This sweet-tart passionfruit ice cream, studded with crunchy macadamias, is made with our Recipe Maker, which lets you customize the basic ice cream custard with your own favorite infusions and mix-ins.

recipe: Passionfruit Macadamia Ice Cream

Bread Pudding

Pour a crème anglaise over bread cubes and bake, and you have bread pudding. You can use our Recipe Maker to customize your bread pudding with different anglaise flavors, breads, and add-ins, for thousands of possible combinations, including this berry version.

recipe: Triple-Berry Bread Pudding

Baked Custard

Increase your egg-to-liquid ratio and bake your custard in the oven, and you have a classic custard dessert, like this luxurious butterscotch version. Most custards need to be baked in a water bath, which ensures slow, even cooking and provides a layer of insulation against hot spots that could cause curdling.

recipe: Butterscotch Custard

Pot de Crème

Pot de crème is simply an ultra-creamy baked custard, often made with egg yolks rather than whole eggs and all cream instead of milk. This lemon version cuts the richness with a bright citrus tang.

recipe: Lemon Pots de Crème

Crème Caramel

Bake your custard in a caramel-lined ramekin, and you have a classic crème caramel. When unmolded, the still-soft caramel pools around the custard to make a sauce. This version adds sour cream to the custard, which provides a hint of tanginess that marries well with the dark caramel notes.

recipe: Crème Caramel

Crème Brûlée

Sprinkle your baked custard with sugar, then melt the sugar until it forms a glassy, crackly crust, and you have crème brûlée. Though it’s possible to do this under a broiler, a mini blowtorch is the best tool for the job: it caramelizes the sugar evenly without burning any spots or reheating the custard.

recipe: Ginger Crème Brûlée

Gelatin-Set Custards

Adding a small amount of gelatin to a basic custard (like a creme anglaise) helps thicken them enough to set up in a pie crust or dish without further cooking—but it does require chilling. Fold whipped cream into a gelatin-set custard and you have a fluffy, melt-in-your mouth Bavarian. This one is flavored with espresso powder and poured into cappuccino cups for a visual pun.

recipe: Cappuccino Bavarian Cream

Chiffon Pie

When beaten egg whites are added to a gelatin-set custard, you’ve got chiffon filling, which makes lighter-than-air pies. This pie, with its deeply chocolaty filling and chocolate-wafer crust, will get rave reviews every time you serve it.

recipe: Chocolate Chiffon Pie

Mousse

Many (though not all) mousses have a gelatin-set custard base, such as this one flavored with a purée of ripe blackberries and raspberries. It’s lightened with both whipped egg whites and whipped cream.

recipe: Berry Mousse

Pudding

Classic American puddings, like this childhood favorite, banana, tend to be less rich than pot de crème or crème brûlée—more milk, and less cream. They also tend to be thickened with starch (usually cornstarch) rather than by baking. A pudding should contain just enough starch to give it body, but not make it stiff.

recipe: Banana Pudding with Vanilla Wafer Crumble

Pastry Cream

Add even more starch to a basic custard, and it becomes the very thick concoction known as pastry cream, the classic filling for chocolate eclairs and fresh fruit tart, like this delicious example from pastry chef extraordinaire Francois Payard.

recipe: Fresh Fruit Tart

Cheesecake

We don’t often think of cheesecake as custard, but that’s exactly what it is, enriched with plenty of cream cheese and thickened with just enough flour to help it set up in the crust. It’s also easy to customize your own cheesecake with different flavors and toppings using our Recipe Maker. Or try this to-die-for chocolate-peanut butter version.

recipe: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake

Clafoutis

Clafoutis, a classic French custard, is on the far side of the starch-thickened custard continuum, since it contains a relatively high ratio of starch to liquid. The texture of a baked clafoutis, such as this one filled with sweet summer plums, is like a cross between a custard and a tender pancake.

recipe: Plum Clafoutis

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