When presented with a dessert menu, my crew will, 90 percent of the time, choose the custard-based dessert. For us, creme brulee, custard tarts, floating islands, Greek custard pie and other custardy creations are the essence of creamy, sweet bliss.
The term "custard" applies to a range of egg and milk or cream preparations that are thickened gently with heat. Depending on proportions, custards can be thin and pourable, or thick and firm, for filling as well as spreading. The filling for eclairs is a custard, as is the dessert sauce known as creme anglaise. Puddings, while not exactly custards, can be similar in texture -- and we all know how comforting and enjoyable a good pudding is.
How to cook a custard
Preparing a custard takes a little bit of technique. The egg and milk or cream mixture needs to be heated enough to cook the ingredients but not curdle them. I didn't understand this the first time I attempted a custard, and I ended up with quite the mess. I've since learned that, when I am working on a custard, it's not time for kitchen multitasking; it deserves my whole attention, if only for a short time.
Custard is delightful in its many variations
Admittedly, custards aren't the healthiest of desserts, particularly if the recipe calls for heavy cream. I just focus on the dairy and protein content to justify consumption. As for the flavor, you can flavor custard in many different ways -- with extracts, liqueurs or citrus zest, just to name a few -- for some really superlative custard experiences.
These simple, rich tarts are delicious with fresh or frozen berries spooned over the top.
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
4 large egg yolks
1 cup light cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon or of a whole tangerine
Pinch of saltDirections:
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Spray six cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Roll the puff pastry into a log and cut it into six evenly sized rounds. Press each round flat, then press each into a sprayed muffin cup so that the pastry goes up the sides.
3. Whisk the yolks, cream, sugar, cornstarch and zest in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk constantly while you heat the custard and it becomes quite thick. This should take 5 to 7 minutes. It should be thick like a pastry cream.
4. Divide the custard evenly among the six prepared pastry cups. Bake about 15 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Cool a while before unmolding, then finish cooling before serving.
Serves 4The kids love this dessert as much for the idea of it as for the flavor.Ingredients:
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup sugar, divided
2 cups AE Dairy milk
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extractDirections:
1. Whip the egg whites until stiff, then beat in 1/4 cup sugar.
2. Bring the milk to just under a simmer but do not let it boil. Drop teaspoonfuls of the meringue into the very hot milk. Poach the meringues for about 4 minutes, turning once. Lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon and allow them to cool on a towel.
3. Turn the heat under the milk to medium-low. Whisk in the egg yolks, sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir constantly until the custard thickens.
4. When thick but still pourable, remove from the heat and let cool.
5. To assemble and serve, divide the custard among bowls. Place the poached meringues on top of the custard, floating them like.. islands!
Greek Custard Pie
Serves 12+For the custard:
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups Cream of Wheat
8 cups AE Dairy milk
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 tablespoons butterTo assemble:
20 sheets phyllo dough
1/2 cup butter, meltedFor the syrup:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons brandyDirections:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. To make the custard, in a medium saucepan, beat together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the Cream of Wheat, milk, zest and vanilla, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in butter. Set aside.
3. Butter a large baking dish. Lay 10 sheets of phyllo in the baking dish, brushing between each sheet with melted butter. Pour the custard into the dish, and repeat the process with the phyllo and the melted butter, laying 10 sheets on top. Bake 45 minutes to an hour. The top will be golden.
4. While the pie is in the last stages of baking, make the syrup. Boil the sugar, water and brandy for 5 to 10 minutes. It will be somewhat thickened. When the pie comes out of the oven and while it is still hot, pour the syrup evenly over the top. Cool completely and serve.