Cooking Tips and Tricks

Why making custard is one of the most important skills to master!

One of many custard creations.

Growing up, when I first started to cook, there was no hesitation to say that I was terrible. On my first attempt to cook a meal for my parents my friend and I managed to not only horribly burn the starter (to this day I still have no idea what it was supposed to be) but also to mis-read the main recipe which stated the lamb had to be marinated three days before. As I continued to cook I made plenty more mistakes, mistakes that helped me to learn everything I needed to in the kitchen, but the majority of mistakes I’ve made, and still continue to make are in that terrifying area called ‘the pastry section’.

            Now, the pastry section isn’t about making chicken pies, as the name may suggest. I can’t even begin to understand why it’s actually under this title (though I assume it’s something to do with the French translation, or what the French choose/chose to eat for this course), but it can be commonly called the place in the kitchen where you make the puddings. For any of you that read this paragraph and have watched a lot of cooking programs, like me, you probably already knew that and I apologise.

            When I started training to be a chef I was rarely put on puddings during an active service. Very early on, my first Christmas in the training kitchen/restaurant in fact, I was put on main courses and so I had to use my brief lessons during the week on puddings to teach me the little I now know. Of those lessons and my hours practicing at home I can only say this: you want to make a truly great pudding? Learn how to make custard.

            Why, do you ask, am I so adamant about this? Because custard is the foundation of so many great puddings. You want a Crème Brule? Make a custard. You want Crème Patisserie in your tart? Make a thicker custard. You want ice-cream, like my Pineapple and Cinnamon ice-cream on my ‘Hard Times’ pudding? All you have to do is learn to make a custard.

            In truth, I no longer have a recipe for ice-cream (or, I should say, I do but I no longer use it). I could try and come up with a recipe for you to follow, but why do that when you can create new flavours for yourself with some simple foundational knowledge? So here we go, this is how I made the custard for my ice-cream:

Step 1: Put milk (whole or semi-skimmed) in a pan with flavourings (e.g. vanilla, cinnamon etc.). Smell the pan (or taste it, if that’s easier) to see whether you have enough. Bring the milk to the boil and then remove from the heat.

Step 2: Separate egg yolks from egg whites. It tends to be a 1 egg yolk to 100ml milk ratio, depending on the size of your eggs.

Step 3: Beat egg yolks with plenty of sugar (depending on the size of your yolk it may be anything from 70g to 120g for 4 eggs) until mixture looks creamy and pale. If it doesn’t look right, beat in more sugar or add more egg yolk.

Step 4: Slowly add warm milk and beat in with whisk (this won’t take long). You can tell when you’ve added enough milk when the consistency reaches a slightly watery custard stage. Don’t under or over do it.

Step 5: Return to a pan and put on a medium heat. Keep stirring and wait for the custard to reach the correct consistency. DO NOT BOIL.

Step 6: Now, this is when I added the puree of a pineapple I roasted with cinnamon. You can also add strawberry puree, chocolate etc. Go wild with the flavour choices if you want but be wary with some ingredients as they can cause the custard to split. If you want a softer ice-cream try adding beaten (meringue style) egg white or cream to the mix half-way through the next step.

Step 7: Pass through a sieve and put into an ice-cream maker. After that, just let the ice-cream maker do its thing. You’ll have Grade A ice-cream in no time. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, you can put the custard in a container and into the freezer (preferably allow the custard to cool before doing this). You then stir it every half-an-hour or so until you have a tasty and creamy treat to eat.

If you need a recipe to help make it first time, that’s fine. If you need accurate quantities to feel comfortable, that’s okay, but trust me: learn how to make custard and you can be a master of puddings in no time.


The Literary Onion


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