Custard is one of my favorite things. I order it compulsively off menus regardless of remaining appetite. Despite my great affection, I have been too scared to make it myself. I blame my mother.
I know it’s cliché, but I grew up with a few cooking rules that may as well have been embroidered onto the pillows. One of these was “don’t burn the milk” another was “screw up custard and you’ll get a scramble”. Thank you mom.
Another reason I’ve satisfied myself with other people’s ability to cook and serve me custard is I’m terribly impatient. (My husband is saying “shocker!” in his head right now.) Come to think, that could also be a reason the above “rules” were said on repeat…
Fear, and childhood trauma, aside, I set forth to create my favorite dessert. To get started I grabbed my trusty New York Times Dessert Cookbook. If the NYT has tested this custard, it must be good. Next, I poured myself a beer. This recipe was going to take liquid courage.
The ingredients were very basic. Milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar and nutmeg. I was sure I could still screw it up. Simple ingredients meant there was no flavor to hide behind. Either this would be custard, or NOT custard.
I had the eggs separated and the milk heating on the stove when my mom called. (coincidence?) I let her in on what I was attempting, and she responded with, “Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”
“Don’t burn the milk, and when you poor in the eggs, don’t scramble them!”
Awesome. No pressure.
Usually my mom is game to chat on the phone for a while, but sensing the seriousness of the situation, she made quick goodbyes and returned my attention to he milk. It was supposed to be warm but not hot. Hmmmm. The only way to test that was with a finger. Very scientific. If I dipped my pointer in and screamed it was too hot. If it was more like a spa treatment, it was perfect. My finger came out relaxed and feeling pampered- perfect.
The eggs did not scramble when added (whew!) and my next step was to pour the mixture into the baking dish. This setup was fun for me too. The baking dish had to sit in a bigger baking dish and then boiling water was poured halfway up the side of the first dish. It was like a strange bath. It apparently helped the custard set evenly.
In the end, success. Light, sweet, eggy flavor. I loved the texture- cool and mushy. (Derek did not.) I think I’ll add more nutmeg and some cinnamon next time, but that’s just personal preference. Oh, and there will be a next time.
*I think it’s important to note my mother is amazing and I pick on her a lot. She is the best chef I know, and I credit all of my ability to her nagging.