Some like it cold,
Some like it hot,
Some dab while others smother,
And with a simple, yellow blot,
Robert’s one’s father’s brother.
Excuse me rewriting Nancy Tyler’s old saw, but I often remind myself how much I like custard. Not the thin runny nightmare of School dinners long years past, but of a thick yellow comfort food which lubricates any pie, cobbler, crumble or steamed pudding down into the digestive tract like a greased pig off Teflon. There are many versions, from the almost white sauces with a huge hit of Vanilla to the golden lusciousness of which I write, made with Mr Birds famous custard powder. Which is a strange substance, given to exploding and people have even been known to walk on it. At General Foods in Banbury 1981, some actually detonated, the explosion being strong enough to blow the factory wall out and injure 8 people. So, handle with respect. This is not a safe cooking space.
I belong to the thick custard end of the spectrum, because thin custard, as anyone who has partaken of a pre 1980’s UK school dinner will know, runny custard is an abomination and not fit for polite society. Thick custard is far more versatile and as well as generally being more tasty, can be moulded and even sliced by those inculcated into the culinary mysteries that even the Freemasons and other so-called ‘secret’ societies never tell you about. I’ve even heard it whispered that some chefs crust it over like Crème Brûlée, which is basically a fancy custard tart without pastry, and consume it in guilty secrecy so that the waiting staff will not look down their noses at them. Because custard is, well, too English, and English cookery is très inférieur, non?
Which is a nonsense. French cooking is good, but when it comes to stews and roasts English cuisine matches the English climate, in that it is bucolic, robust and hearty. Both the French and English traditions have their specific strengths, but neither reigns supreme. Each has a place. Just like sometimes you want the brash horseradish heat of Colemans English Mustard with roast beef where the spicier Dijon or German mustards just won’t do. Or a decent crumbly Blue Stilton where Roquefort is too pungent and Danish Blue too greasy.
This is where English style custard raises a triumphant two primitive fingers against all the food critics. It has no pretensions, no finesse, it just is. The trick is not too much custard powder and just enough sugar. I find a 50/50 mix does the trick, adding just enough whole milk, not skimmed, 1% or 2% but full cream, to give your custard the rich creaminess that is the hallmark of this viscous gold.
To make really thick custard for slicing when cold:
One heaped teaspoon of Birds Custard powder
The same amount of white granulated sugar
One drop of Vanilla extract
One and a half cups whole cream milk
Mix custard powder and sugar together, add a little of the milk to make a smooth yellow paste. Heat the rest of the milk on a small one pint pan over a medium heat until it begins to bubble at the edges.
Now add the custard and sugar paste in the pan, stirring gently.
Decant hot milk into bowl with custard and sugar paste. Mix. Now return to the saucepan and put back on heat.
Now add one drop of vanilla extract, no more.
Keep stirring gently, or your custard will become full of lumps as the cornstarch in the mix binds too quickly and no one will love you ever again because it has been scientifically proven that those who make lumpy custard are no good in bed. I use a whisk for the best results. Wearing Leather bondage gear is optional. Not PVC or leather substitute. Like with your custard, only the real thing will do.
When the mix is thick enough that a slow stirring motion briefly exposes the bottom of the pan, remove from heat and decant custard into a dish. At this point you can eat the custard hot with the pie or pudding of your choice, but I’ve another suggestion.
Leave the custard to cool for an hour until it has the consistency of jelly. remove from dish using a knife so it forms a dome. Now you have the choice of making a kind of fruit compote and pouring it over the solidified golden dome, or stewing some apple, leaving that to cool and, having sliced your solidified custard into quarter inch slices, put a layer of stewed apple between each slice. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar, ground cinnamon and perhaps even nutmeg if you’re feeling posh. Bung in the fridge for half an hour. Serve. Or keep it for yourself. You’re worth it. I give you permission to caramelise with one of those rinky dinky little blowtorches. Tell me how you got on because I haven’t bought one yet.
Yes, Jordan Peterson says you must embrace your inner monster so you never have to use it, but I say, don’t just give your inner monster a kiss and a big hug, take it by the hand and drag it into the bedroom. Well made custard will enable you to do this. Honestly.