General Discussion

Custard technique


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General Discussion

Custard technique

Sarah W-R | | Sep 13, 2004 10:30 AM

I tried making a trifle yesterday, riffing on a recipe from Nigella's Domestic Goddess, and was not happy with how the custard turned out. It was my first time trying to make custard and, given the diversity of recipes, I was wondering if there was a consensus on what was the best method.

Nigella's recipe was

1.25 cups milk
1.25 cups heavy cream (these 2 warmed together)

8 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar (these 2 beaten together, then the hot milk and cream added to them, and the whole returned to the saucepan and simmered, whisking constantly, until thickened)

vanilla (she said a bean, I used a slosh of Frontier Organics extract)
1/2 cup sherry (boiled with the vanilla until somewhat reduced, then added to the finished custard off the heat)

Other recipes I pulled off the shelf (Cook's Illustrated, Joy, Fannie, Better Homes & Gardens) called for widely varying components--whole eggs, fewer yolks, more sugar, amounts of cornstarch from a little bit up to 1/4 cup.

I followed Nigella's recipe, but the custard never thickened as much as I expected it to--it was soupy, saucelike, and wouldn't have held up as a layer in the trifle. It was also matte-looking, not shiny as I had imagined it would be, and tasted dull. I added a tablespoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon more sugar and kept whisking (cooking it for about 10 more minutes to lose any raw-starch flavor); it thickened dramatically, but got even more oddly matte, and after being chilled it was really a bit too stiff (leading me to wonder if I should have stopped with the apparently-too-thin custard at first), with a slightly grainy consistency, almost like very soft cookie dough.

It still tasted good, though, and I still used it in the trifle, which was, appropriately, a glorious, sweet, alcoholic mess of homemade sponge-cake cubes, very ripe nectarines, chopped crystallized ginger, several splashes more sherry, softly whipped cream, and a homemade caramel sauce drizzled on top. But the custard definitely did not turn out right, and I was wondering if any experienced patissiers out there could scan my (Nigella's) recipe and critique it.