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CUSTARD

Custard is undoubtedly the base of pastry creams and many desserts. Today, we will learn how to prepare an excellent custard, starting from the ingredients up to its correct storage.

Let’s start!

BASIC INGREDIENTS

The ingredients of Custard are mainly 4:

EGGS

Eggs define the real cream’s value, distinguishing a Baking Custard (e.g., for a traditional Custard Pie) from an excellent cream for filling desserts and cakes. I believe a good quality cream is prepared with 20/25 yolks per liter of milk. Generally, fresh or pasteurized yolks are used to have a safer product.

The principal function of eggs is to provide lecithin. This substance combines the yolk’s fats with the liquid part of milk (these substances are called “emulsifiers”). Simultaneously, lecithin gives the cream shine and protects it during storage, avoiding the watery part’s separation.

Moreover, as they thicken around 70°C (158°F), eggs and starches are the primary thickener elements.

To fully understand how to dose eggs, it is necessary to consider two crucial aspects:

The coagulation temperature of the egg increases if we add sugar to the recipe. Indeed, a simple yolk coagulates at 70°C (158°F), whereas the temperature rises at 80°C (176°F) for sweetened yolks.

The higher the egg quantity, the lower the temperature to cook the Custard. But also, the lower will be the amount of starch in the recipe. (See Pastry Cream Balancing) 

THICKENERS: STARCHES & FLOUR

Flour is one of the most common thickeners used at home for the Custard. However, it gels at around 92°C (197°F), so it only suitable for Custard made with few eggs (up to 10 yolks per liter of milk).

On the contrary, today, using Rice and Corn Starch is quite widespread. These ingredients are much more appropriate to Custard’s recipe because of their different gelification points. Let’s see them better:

  • Rice Starch: it gels at 78°C (172°F) and gives a creamy texture and a glossy aspect to the Custard.
  • Corn starch (Maizena): It gels at 82°C (179°F) and gives a stiffer and “pudding-like” texture

On the contrary, I do not recommend using potato starch because it makes the Custard too sticky and stringy.

SUGAR(s)

Sugar is fundamental for the taste and increases the eggs’ coagulation point.

The average quantity of sugar for a medium sweetness custard is about 250-350gr of sugar per liter of milk. Obviously, in substitution of granulated sugar, honey can also be used, considering a lower dosage of 30% on granulated sugar weight. However, in this case, don’t forget to consider the characteristic aromatic note that honey will bring to the Custard, making it not always suitable for additional aromatizations.

MILK & HEAVY CREAM

Sometimes we can opt for adding some heavy cream to the milk to obtain an incredibly round cream in the mouth. In my experience, a good compromise is to substitute up to 30% of the milk’s weight with fresh heavy cream!

CHOCOLATE

Although chocolate is not one of the essential ingredients, its use is widespread in preparing a base cream for mousses and Italian semifreddo.

For a good result and an excellent taste, the quantity of chocolate has to be around 400gr per liter of milk if we consider average chocolate with 50% of fat content.

As cocoa butter content in chocolate increases, I suggest you progressively decrease its quantity in the Custard’s to avoid a structure too rigid and stiff once chilled.

As an indication:

  • With 60% cocoa chocolate: 350gr of chocolate per liter of milk
  • If you use 70% cocoa chocolate: 250gr of chocolate per liter of milk.
  • For an 80% cocoa Chocolate: 200gr of chocolate per liter of milk

In case you want to make an excellent chocolate custard, I suggest you cut the milk in the recipe with 40% of water or substitute it with soy or rice vegetable milk.

Moreover, use at most 10 yolks per liter of milk, as lactose and eggs cover the original aromatic note of chocolate.

Traditional Custard
Try the Recipe
Crema Pasticcera Classica

HOW TO BALANCE THE RECIPE

We can start by building a recipe for a Traditional Custard. We will gradually increase the content of eggs to see how to re-balance the other ingredients.

The rules we will follow are:

Starches: Once the yolk exceeds 200gr per liter of milk, we remove 10gr of starch every 100gr of eggs (over 200gr)

Sugar: every 100gr over 200gr of the base balance, we will add 20gr of sugar.

Let’s see it in practice!

CUSTARD WITH 10 YOLKS

Ideal to be enriched with chocolate (see above for chocolate dosage)

  • Fresh whole milk 1000gr
  • Yolks 200gr (about 10)
  • Granulated sugar 300gr
  • Rice starch 55gr
  • Cornstarch 55gr
  • Salt 3gr
  • Vanilla

CUSTARD WITH 20 YOLKS

We increase the yolks by 200gr and compensate with -20gr of starch and +40gr of sugar.

  • Fresh whole milk 1000gr
  • Yolks 400gr (+200gr compared to the previous recipe)
  • Sugar: 300gr+40gr= 340gr
  • Total Starch: 110gr-20gr= 90gr
  • Salt 3gr
  • Vanilla

CUSTARD WITH 40 YOLKS PER LITER

We increase yolks by 600gr; therefore, we will compensate with -60gr of starch and +120gr of sugar.

  • Fresh whole milk 1000gr
  • Yolks 800gr (+ 600gr compared to the basic recipe)
  • Sugar: 300gr + 120gr =420gr
  • Total Starch 110 – 60gr =50gr
  • Salt 3gr Vanilla

 

HOW TO MAKE CUSTARD AT HOME

TRADITIONAL METHOD

We work the egg yolks with sugar, aroma, and starch without whipping. When the milk comes to a boil, we pour it into the egg mixture several times until it is dissolved. Then we cook over moderate heat without stopping to stir with a whisk.

When the cream is cooked, let it cool very quickly, as explained below, and flavor it as desired (for example, with grated lemon zest for a fresher taste).

EGGS WHIPPED METHOD

We whip the egg yolks, sugar, flavorings, and starches in a stand mixer until the mixture is fluffy. Once ready, we gently pour the mixture into the boiling milk without stirring.

As soon as the boil rises the pan’s sides, we whisk vigorously and remove it from heat. In this method, the air incorporated during the whipping will slightly delay the diffusion of heat, prolonging the cooking.

MICROWAVE METHOD

This method is particularly suitable if we need to prepare small quantities.

First, we mix all the ingredients, starting with the eggs, sugars, starches, and aroma.

Once ready, we add the milk, mixing to amalgamate the mixture. We place it in a suitable container (pyrex or plastic for microwave), and we cook at maximum power for 2 minutes.

When the Custard is ready, we remove it from the oven, and we vigorously stir to distribute the heat. This step should be repeated several times, giving 1 minute – 1 1/2 minutes of cooking time each time, until the cream is done.

PREPARATION  WITH THERMOMIXER

Thermomixer are very useful for the preparation of Custard and have the advantage of doing it in a single step (I recommend, however, not to exceed 1l of milk).

You can pour all the ingredients into the bowl and let it mix at medium speed for 30 seconds. Once ready, set the cooking temperature at 90°C (194°F), and let it cook for 7/8 minutes.

When the cream is ready, it is essential to let it chill quickly, as I will tell you in a moment.

Similarly, suppose you want to prepare a chocolate custard with a Thermomix. In that case, you can add the chopped chocolate during the last minute of cooking, making it mix at the highest speed for 10seconds once the cooking is finished.

 

THE CHILLING PROCESS

Whichever method is chosen, once cooked, Custard must be cooled very quickly to stop the eggs’ cooking and limit the proliferation of bacteria.

To do this, it is good practice to pour the Custard in a well-cleaned metal pan sanitized with 95° grain alcohol (or non-potato vodka). After having covered it with plastic film,  rapidly chill it at +4°C (39°F). A blast chiller is the best tool to obtain a quality result for those who have one.

Before using the Custard, remember to stir it vigorously with a whisk to recover its structure and shine.

A good custard can be, in fact, the base for many other creams, replacing, in my opinion. In the Creams Page, we will take a closer look at other creams in pastry.

STORAGE

If well prepared and placed in a properly sanitized pan, we can keep the Custard in the fridge at +4°C (39°F), keeping it covered with plastic wrap for about 2 days. However, if we add some whipped cream (for an Italian-style Chantilly cream), the cream’s storage is limited to 24 hours.

If you wish to freeze the Custard, you need to add to the recipe 10gr of gelatine for every liter of milk. However, I do not recommend it because freezing (especially with domestic systems) will lumpy the Custard once thawed.

 

FLAVORING OF CUSTARD

We can flavor the cream by using:

  • Dry Fruit Pastes (e.g., Hazelnut or Pistachio paste): 100gr of paste is used for 1kg of custard, adding it once the cream is well chilled.
  • Chocolate: as indicated above (see Ingredients > Chocolate).
  • Liqueurs: 50gr of liqueur per 1kg of Custard to be added to the cold cream. The dosage is purely indicative and varies depending on the liqueur and personal taste.

I REPLAY YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT CUSTARD

Can I replace the Starch with Flour?

This is not a good idea because, with Flour, you would get a stickier and thicker Custard.

The use of Flour is suggested if you use up to 8 eggs per liter of milk. Discover how to prepare an excellent Custard on Biancolievito

Can I use Potato-starch?

Not a good idea because potato-starch produces a very sticky and gummy texture. Also, once in the fridge, the cream will tend to divide and lose liquid.

Can I use whole eggs to prepare Custard?

Yes, if you want to prepare a Baking Custard. On the other hand, adding the egg whites will make the Custard very stiff and not very pleasant in the mouth if you want to use it "pure" to fill pastries and cakes

The Custard is too runny. How can I thicken it?

If you notice it just after cooking, you can extend the cooking time by a few minutes.

Otherwise, if the cream is too liquid once chilled, the easiest solution (just for emergency) is to heat about 1/3 of it, add 20gr for each liter of milk of soaked gelatin. Then mix it into the remaining cream and chill again for a couple of hours.

The Custard has become runny in the fridge. What does it depend on?

This phenomenon is called "syneresis" and can depend on incorrect cooking (too long or too short) or a too-high percentage of fat.

By replacing 10% of the sugar in the recipe with glucose syrup, you will limit the problem...

Can I replace Milk with Heavy Cream?

Yes, you can replace between 20% and 50% of the milk's weight with heavy cream. In this way, you will obtain a Custard with a smoother texture and a rounder taste on the palate.

Can I use Low-Fat Milk?

Yes. You will have a slightly less fatty custard, but the result will not vary perceptibly.

How long does the Custard keep in the fridge?

If well stored and covered, you can keep the Custard in the refrigerator at +4°C (39°F) for up to 2 days. However, if you add whipped cream to it, the storage time is reduced to 24 hours.

Can I freeze Custard?

Generally speaking, this is not a good idea because it will be quite lumpy and runny once thawed.

If you want to give it a try, add 10gr of gelatin for every liter of milk. The gelatin will help keep the texture of the cream firmer.

I am lactose intolerant. What can I replace milk with?

No problem! Soy or rice milk are excellent substitutes for cow's milk, and you can replace them with equal weight.

Can I make a gluten-free Custard?

Sure, using only rice starch and corn starch (Maizena), you will obtain a completely gluten-free product.

Can I add butter to my Custard?

Yes, the Custard with added butter is called Mousseline Cream and is widely used in French pastry to fill cakes and mignon pastries. The proportion is about 420gr of soft butter per 1kg of well-cold Custard.

Can I make Custard without eggs?

Yes, you can increase the quantity of starch to compensate for the thickening action of the yolk. For example, you can use 55gr of rice starch and 80gr of corn starch for 1 liter of milk.

To satisfy the eye, you can add a small amount of yellow food coloring gel or a bit of turmeric.

How much pistachio or hazelnut paste should I add to the Custard to flavor it?

In general, you can use 100gr of dry fruit paste (pistachio or hazelnut) to flavor 1kg of well-cold Custard.

I recommend not exaggerating with paste quantity because it weighs down the cream and makes it more liquid.

I need less cream. Can I divide the amount in the recipe?

Generally, the unit of measure for the Custard recipe is the quantity of milk.

If you need less cream, you can divide the recipe as you prefer. However, I recommend that you do not go below 250ml of milk to ensure better cooking.

Can I use colorants to color the Custard?

Sure, I recommend using coloring gels and adding them to the Custard once it is well chilled. Consider that the starting base is yellow, so the colors will turn accordingly!

Can I use vanilla flavoring instead of vanilla?

If you have no alternative, yes. I personally recommend a good vanilla bean or a high-quality pure vanilla extract.

Can I use only Corn or Rice Starch?

In case you miss one of the 2 starches, you can easily substitute the missing one.

Keep in mind that if you use only rice starch, you will obtain a more fluffy (and less-structured) Custard, while if you use only corn starch, you will have a more compact and stiff texture.

I need to make a tart. Can I use traditional Custard?

If you need to make a Tarte with a custard that will bake in the oven, I recommend making a specific Baking Custard.

The color of the Custard is too light. How can I make it more yellow?

The easiest solution is definitely to choose yellow paste eggs (the ones to make homemade pasta). Otherwise, you can use a tiny amount of yellow/red gel colorant.

What can I do with the leftover egg whites?

Maybe some Meringues or delicious Macarons!

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