Food & Drink: How To Make Custard Like A Pro

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Is there anything as dreamy as pouring vanilla-scented custard over a generous serving of apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding or jam sponge? We didn’t think so.

Traditional custard is a simple combination of milk, eggs, sugar, and a flavouring, like vanilla (and sometimes a sprinkling of cornflour). Once you’ve mastered the basic recipe you can tailor it to your taste – make it thicker with more eggs, richer with double cream or even chocolatey with a dash of cocoa powder.

Do I need to add cornflour to custard?

A traditional crème anglaise (or pouring custard) uses only eggs as a thickener and doesn’t include cornflour. However, a dash of cornflour cuts the risk of the eggs overcooking and curdling once the hot milk is introduced. It also makes for a smoother, thicker, and almost fool-proof custard.

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I don’t have a vanilla pod. Can I use vanilla extract?

Sure. Simply add the extract to the custard at the very end and stir through.

How can I make my custard richer?

Use more egg yolks or substitute some or all the whole milk for double cream to make a decadent custard. A higher egg to liquid ratio will result in more of a baked custard texture that sets.

Why is my custard lumpy?

It’s vital to continue whisking while streaming in the milk or you’ll end up with lumps. If you find this too tricky, add the milk a ladle at a time. Also, when you return the custard mixture to the pan, keep the heat on low to prevent it sticking to the base and clumping.

Why does my custard look grainy and scrambled?

The eggs in a custard can scramble if the milk is too hot. Allow the milk to cool slightly and then incorporate it slowly into the eggs to avoid cooking them on contact.

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How do I stop custard forming a skin?

Place a piece of clingfilm directly on top of the custard and smooth it down to prevent any air getting to it.

Do I need to strain my custard?

Straining custard isn’t necessary but if it looks a little grainy, pass it through a sieve for a smoother finish.

What else can I make with homemade custard?

Churn your custard in an ice cream machine or fold it into double cream for a gorgeous pavlova topping. Pour it onto set jelly and top with whipped cream and sprinkles to make trifle or soak slices of brioche in it before baking to make a fancy bread and butter pudding. Turn your custard into a crème brulee by skipping the final saucepan stage and pouring into ramekins before baking in a bain marie. Once baked and cooled, sprinkle over caster sugar and caramelise under a hot grill to create that deliciously crunchy top that cracks when you tap it with a spoon.

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Yields: 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 10 mins

Process Time: 10 mins

Total Time: 20 mins


  • 600 mL


  • 1

    vanilla pod (or ½ tsp vanilla extract), cut down the middle and seeds scraped out

  • 4

    egg yolks

  • 2 tbsp.

    caster sugar (about 30g)

  • 2 tsp.

    corn flour


1. In a saucepan over medium heat add milk along with vanilla seeds and pod and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile, whisky together egg yolks, sugar, and cornflour in a large bowl. Once milk has boiled, remove from heat, and leave to cool. Remove vanilla pod at this point.

3. Once slightly cooled, gradually pour the milk into the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking continuously.

4. Return to pan over a low heat, stir gently until the mixture begins to thicken. It should coat the back of a wooden spoon when its thick enough.

TOP TIP: Rather than throwing that vanilla pod away, rinse it and add it to a jar of sugar for vanilla sugar!

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