English Custard

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Four to six


Appears in

Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer

Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer

By Craig Claiborne

Published 1969

  • About

One of the best dessert sauces ever devised is what the French call a crème anglaise or English custard. It is smooth, rich and elegant, served hot or cold. It may be served over cake or ice cream or stewed fruit. There is only one trick in making this dish, and that is not to cook it over too high heat. The thing that thickens the custard are egg yolks, and if the heat is too high, these will “scramble,” so to speak, and the sauce will curdle.


  • 4 egg yolks (save whites for another purpose)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • teaspoon salt
  • cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Place an asbestos pad or a metal “Flame Tamer” on top of a burner; the pad or the Flame Tamer will distribute the heat from the burner more evenly.

  2. Place the yolks, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and stir with a wire whisk until well blended. Set this aside for a moment.

  3. Pour the milk into another small saucepan and bring it almost but not quite to a boil. Add the milk, quite gradually, to the yolk mixture, stirring with the whisk. Immediately place the saucepan with the sauce over the pad and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring constantly with the wooden spoon. The important thing now is to keep the spoon in constant motion, going this way and that way, all over the bottom of the saucepan. Caution: the sauce must cook thoroughly until it is piping hot, but it must not boil. As the sauce cooks it will gradually thicken. There is one classic way to tell when the sauce is done. Lift the spoon from the sauce and hold it over the pan. Quickly run the forefinger down the center of the spoon. If the finger does not make a lasting impression on the sauce, it is not done. When the sauce is thick enough the finger will leave a definite clear space with the custard coating on either side. Stir in the vanilla.

  4. Serve the custard hot or cold with cake slices, over ice cream, or over stewed fruit. Or use it to make a bavarian cream as in the following recipe.