January 7, 2010

It's Time for English Custard

Where to start? Where to begin?!

Firstly with a hope that everyones' holidays were filled with the love and laughter that sometimes you can only experience with the closest of friends and family...with the help of some seam-splittingly rich foods of course! 

I have to say that, on reflection, the best moments of the holiday season for me were honestly the simplest and the most rustic.  Assuredly, the few culinary achievements I was able to pull-off were much enjoyed, and at their best they had me drooling on my plate...but even the simple meals, like nachos "with the works" after a long day of skiing, found us delighting in their easy-bake nature and instantly filling qualities, as we played board games and sipped thick, Euro-style hot chocolates opposite the flickering log fire.

That said, without fault, every Christmas our family's combined multicultural experiences find their way into our meal planning (yes, we actually create entire menus just to give a sense...).  Steamed Christmas puddings shipped straight to our home from England, different takes on Mexican molé inspired by my sister's time in Mexico, my Uncle's version of a type of Chinese soup using varieties of seaweed and fungi found only in the deepest, darkest sections of the one (decent) Asian shop in town, platters of Italian antipasti, and French-inspired wintery sides of caramelised chicons or Belgian endives; not to mention the plethora of goodies on the silver goodie tray.

Now that the days of 'goodie-rading' have past, and helped along by the Okanagan's mild winter this year, my mind is already drifting ahead to warmer days, when the ice is melted, when the kitchen potager is no longer covered in snow, and when the days of sowing the first of the seasons' seeds begin, with early crisp lettuces and radishes only a few weeks away. 

But enough of that dreaming....we must be practical! To keep you from going into a serious sugar-withdrawal coma I'll leave you with my favourite recipe for the richest (well...almost) English custard I dare present you with right after Christmas. It's perfect for drizzling over lightly cooked chunks of spiced apple or pear (at it turns out nutmeg goes extremely well with custard), or whichever fruit you may have on hand; my advice though is to steer clear of citrus fruit.  As tempting as the new arrivals of blood oranges may be they may just curdle your custard.

Vanilla Bean English Custard...or Crème Anglaise if you'd like it to sound even better*

1 + 1/8th cup whipping cream
1/2 a vanilla bean, halved lengthwise to reveal the seeds
1 + 1/8th cup 1% or semi skimmed milk
4 egg yolks
(just over) 1/2 cup granulated/caster sugar or organic cane sugar

Heat the milk and cream with the vanilla pod halves until heated through.  Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl that ideally has a pour spout.  Add the heated milk to the egg mixture (keep the pot at hand) whisking until completely combined then return to the stove top.

Stir constantly on low heat (about 10 minutes of attention required but it's well worth it) until the custard thickens.  Now this is where some patience is required...you must not leave the pot's side for more than a few seconds otherwise the eggs will scramble and it will ruin the custard.

You'll know the custard is done when it coats the bottom of the pot; just tip the pot to reveal the bottom and, with a wooden spoon, draw a line through the custard- if it reveals the bottom of the pan then it's ready!


*Now, take this moment to find, and then release with abandon, the Bird's custard tins or any other type of instant custard alternative hiding in the back of your cupboards.  I'm not sure how, but in Canada we seem to have forgotten the beauty of truly home-made, from scratch, traditional custard. In fact, this is one of the few good things to have come out of England (sorry guys).  It's so good, that the French have given due respect to its neighbour's efforts by calling it crème anglaise to this very day.  Few things can compare to this custard's creamy, vanilla-infused richness, and ribbon-like texture.  Especially not the 19th century powdery substitute whose only raison d'être is to replace eggs as the traditional thickening agent.  Of course this is a great alternative if you happen to be allergic to eggs but in no other case should a custard substitute be used...except for maybe in Nanaimo bars...where no other icing will do.

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