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.
The ingredients of Custard are mainly 4:
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 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!
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.