When I’m in the mood for dessert, something easy to make, and I have no one to impress but myself, the first thing that comes to mind is vanilla custard. Really, honestly, it’s the first and only thing that comes to my mind. When I had food poisoning last week from tainted eggs, and I started to finally get my appetite back, what did I make? Vanilla custard with eggs, of course. My taste buds know no logic or reason.
I was a spoiled kid, although that’s not an earth-shattering revelation. Among other wonderful desserts, I grew up eating my mom’s homemade chocolate éclairs—fluffy white pastry filled with vanilla custard and topped with chocolate. It was only a few years ago that I began to crave the custard element of the dessert more than anything else. In the beginning, it was just the novelty of it—my mom only made custard when she made éclairs, and other than what was dolloped inside the pastry (which was never enough for me), the only custard I could get my hands on was the warm scrapes left in the sauce pan before it was dunked in a sink of soapy water. I could never get enough. There’s just something about a spoonful of cool, creamy goodness that gets into my head. The egg flavor makes it rich, but the vanilla keeps it light. It’s simple enough that I could eat it every day for weeks without getting tired of it. And it’s a wonderful base for fresh fruit, but mine never makes it that far.
For the vanilla, I’ve tried using both vanilla extract and a vanilla bean, when I happen to have one left in the cupboard. The beans are expensive, and I’m cheap, so I usually use extract, but I have to say the vanilla bean works better. The custard takes a few hours to cool, and cool is the best way to eat it, so plan ahead. And if you’re recovering from food poisoning and not in your right mind, and you leave the custard on the stove too long like I did last week, a trip through a fine mesh sieve will get rid of those annoying little granules of corn starch/egg, good as new.
Vanilla Egg Custard
3 cups milk (I like to use 2 cups whole, 1 cup skim—makes me feel like a better person)
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean, split, seeds removed)
Combine milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heavy saucepan. If using a vanilla bean, add the seeds to this mixture. Bring to boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and I mean constantly. This will take anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. Once it begins to boil and thicken, remove immediately from heat, and stir in butter, and if you’re using extract, the vanilla goes in at this point as well. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic directly down onto the surface of the custard to prevent the dreaded custard skin, unless you’re one of those people who actually likes custard skins. Try to think of something else for a few hours while it cools, then enjoy!