This really is a luxurious treat. It is so good that the French recognize its worth with the name of crème anglaise. In traditional custard recipes, the milk and eggs are stirred for ages in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, but I find if you just scald the milk and pour it from a height on to the eggs, then stir it over the lowest heat possible you can speed up the process without running the risk of curdling.
To obtain the flavouring of true vanilla split a vanilla pod lengthwise and remove the seeds with a pointed knife. (The seeds intensify the vanilla taste.) Place the pod and seeds in a saucepan and add 300ml (½ pint) each milk and single cream. Bring just to the boil and remove from the heat. Set aside, covered, for 15–20 minutes to infuse the flavour. This is delicious hot or cold served with puddings, pies, fruit salads and best of all, treacle tart.
Real vanilla-flavoured custard sauce elevates a homemade apple pie to a very special pudding.
Beat 4 egg yolks (or 1 whole egg and 2 yolks) together in a howl. If planning to serve the custard thickened and cold, heat in 2 teaspoons sifted cornflour.
Reheat the vanilla-flavoured cream and milk just until tiny bubbles appear around the sides of the saucepan but do not boil. Remove at once and pour gradually on to the eggs from a height, heating hard until all the milk and cream are added. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve back into the saucepan.
On the lowest possible heat, stir constantly until the custard thickens to the consistency of single cream: if you draw your finger across the back of the wooden spoon it should leave a clear line. Pour the custard immediately into a jug to cool and serve warm or cover with a piece of clingfilm so a skin doesn’t form. This will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.