Custard is not really the most visually impressive of foods. It can be thick, thin, cooked on the stovetop or baked in the oven. A good custard will have a pale, yellowish or cream color and, if it is a baked custard, probably a slightly darker “skin” on top. Some people, like me, love it and some hate it. Creme brulee cleverly covers it up with some burnt sugar. The custard in this photo has a bit of skin, as you can see. But that is simply the way it is.
Baked custard is one of the two basic types of custard and it is simple to make. Beat eggs and sugar together, whisk in hot milk and bake in a water bath. The water bath insulates the custard, preventing it from reaching too high a heat and curdling. I have been as specific as possible in my recipe, below, but know that it is not a difficult process.
The hardest part is knowing when it is done. A custard like this should maintain a smooth, unblemished surface all through baking, so color is not a reliable indicator. You will know that it is done because it will jiggle all at once if you push the container. As though a single, huge drop has created it, the custard will ripple, but it will move symetrically. If different parts of the custard move independantly, it is not set yet. The custard may still look loose when it is done, but custards like this one should not look firm. You can always test it by inserting a sharp knife into the center. When the knife comes out clean, you can be sure it is done. Once you get the idea of what a proper jiggle looks like, you can use the same test for other baked custards, including cheesecake.
This custard is not too sweet with a nice, but subtle, vanilla flavor. I used low fat milk here, but whole will make a richer custard and skim will make a leaner one. You can steep a bean in the milk, or simply stir in 1 tsp of vanilla extract when you have removed the milk from the heat.
It is light, slightly eggy and has a delicate mouthfeel. In fact, when warm, it almost melts in your mouth. I personally think it’s best warm, but it is excellent cold, too. You can store it in the refrigerator, covered, for a few days.
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla or 1/2 vanilla bean, split
Butter or lightly oil a 1-quart (4 cup) baking dish or ramekin. Place in a deep casserole or roasting pan. Fill pan with water until it comes about half way up the side of your ramekin. Remove ramekin.
Place casserole dish, with water still in it, in the oven.
Preheat fo 325F.
Put milk (whole or low fat) into a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. If you’re using a vanilla bean, place it in the milk. The milk will be ready when steam begins to rise from it, but before it boils. While you wait, prepare the eggs.
Place eggs into a large bowl and beat to combine. Beat in sugar and whisk until thorougly combined.
When the milk is steaming, pour about 2 tablespoons into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add about two more tablespoons, still whisking, followed by a few more. Slowly stream in the rest of the milk, whisking continuously. If you are using vanilla extract, stir it in.
Strain custard into prepared ramekin with a mesh sieve, which will remove the vanilla bean and any lumps. Carefully place it into heated waterbath.
Bake at 325F for 40-45 minutes, until a sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
Allow to cool in waterbath for 15-20 minutes.
Serves 6, warm or cold.
SashaJanuary 12, 2006
This is a lovely post. And a lovely custard. I shall try it this weekend.
The Cookbook JunkieJanuary 12, 2006
What a coincidence, I’ve been thinking about custards lately. Particularly a rice custard. I know I have a recipe somewhere that I’ve wanted to try for years and years but for the life of me I can’t remember which cookbook it was in. It was a rice custard with dried cherries.
I’m a big fan of all custards. I love the skin too.
JulieJanuary 12, 2006
How would it do if baked, put in the fridge and then reheated?
Baking SodaJanuary 12, 2006
Ah custard, the comfort of comfort foods, nothing better than a cup of custard, flanel pyjamas and a good novel (but no skin please).
RaineyJanuary 12, 2006
Well done, as always. But I confess custard isn’t something that lights my fire until you add a top of burnt sugar or add rice and raisins or soak tasty, cinnamon spiced bread in it before you bake it. Then I become insatiable and oh so comfy and happy! ;>
NicJanuary 12, 2006
Sasha – Thank you. I hope you enjoy it!
Cookbook Junkie – I have a pretty good rice pudding recipe in my index, that I did a few weeks back if you want to give it a go.
Julie – I have never reheated custard, and my sense is that it probably wouldn’t be quite as good. It’s worth a shot, though.
Baking Soda – I’ll have extra skin on my serving, then!
Rainey – I agree that it’s not exciting, but sometimes doing something basic is comforting.
IvonneJanuary 12, 2006
To me there is only one word to describe this dish: BLISS!
You have a great blog! Keep up the good work!
AnneJanuary 13, 2006
Couldn’t resist tagging you Nic, hope you feel like it 🙂
LindaJanuary 13, 2006
Would a lower-fat milk work or do I need whole milk? I’m looking forward to trying this.
lindyJanuary 13, 2006
In my opinion, custard is one of the basic food groups. I love creme brulee, chocolate pudding, and runny custard sauce, creme anglais and the savory custards in moussaka, quiche lorraine, and the lot.
But if you are feeling a bit sorry for yourself, a plain baked custard like this one can be the best cure. And if you can make one, you can be your own mom!
NicJanuary 13, 2006
Ivonne – Thank you for the kind words!
Anne – Thanks Anne. We’ll see if I actually get around to it this time!
Linda – I used low fat, actually. I’ll amend the recipe to show that you can use any type of milk.
Lindy – Ha ha! Great point!
LoriJanuary 24, 2006
I love flans/custards! They’re the sexiest of desserts.
TurbozMay 6, 2008
Hi, i was checking up other recipes, but they only used egg yolks for creme brulee, instead of using whole eggs. i was wondering if it would make a difference? thanks!
SutherleySeptember 30, 2008
Thank you for your article! I was attempting to make baked custard and your article helped ALOT in knowing when it was done and other things. THANX!
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Jennifer RedaNovember 2, 2009
mmm, i made this today! so yummy. thanks for the recipe and detailed instructions 😀
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