Crème Anglaise

My goal is to present you with seasonal recipes you can use to learn classic culinary techniques. It is July, which makes this the season of Le TOUR de FRANCE! So in honor of my favorite sporting event, you will be learning a lot of French food this month.

The Tour started this year, in of all places, London. In honor of this unusual event, today’s recipe is the classic English Cream, or Crème Anglaise.

My theory has always been that the French named it after the English because it is fairly plain and uninteresting. But it is a crucial element to the pastry arts. In addition to being a basic vanilla sauce, it is the foundation of many desserts, such as Floating Island, Trifle and Ice Cream. It can be flavored with anything, and even used in savory applications. The possibilities are endless for the creative chef.

Crème Anglaise is a stove-top egg custard. Eggs cook rather quickly, and this sauce cooks quick too. You must remember to continuously stir it and be prepared to stop the cooking immediately when the sauce is ready. The recipe calls for an ice bath, which is the most important part in my opinion.

There are a couple rules that I regularly ignore when making this recipe. They are related, and while you may choose to follow conventional wisdom, hear me out.

Most recipes say to avoid aluminum pots as they will discolor your custard. This is true if you stir them over heat for a long time. But I prefer aluminum pots, as they conduct heat better than stainless. Stainless tends to scorch milk, burn the sides of the pan, and heat unevenly. Also, every kitchen I ever worked in only offered aluminum, so I had to make it work.

Recipes also say to cook Crème Anglaise slowly, and that boiling it will give a bitter taste. This is nonsense. And because I use aluminum, I have to boil to reduce cooking/stirring time.

I have always enjoyed success with this recipe, but I will caution you to be patient. It is not easy, and in fact I have often used this recipe to weed out job applicants. Get yourself enough ingredients to make it a few times in case you flub it. And for goodness sake, do not make it for the first time in front of people.

When you’ve successfully completed it, you can run it through an ice cream machine, follow my recipe for Trifle, or use it to sauce another dessert.

INGREDIENTS

3-4 cups of ice
4 cups half-and-half
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

METHOD

  1. Fill a large bowl with ice and set another large bowl on top of the ice. Have a fine strainer nearby. Set this all aside, but nearby, until custard is cooked.
  2. Bring the half-and-half and vanilla bean to a boil in a large saucepan. In a small bowl whisk together sugar and egg yolks. At the boil, temper 1/2 cup of hot half-and-half into the yolks and whisk quickly to combine. Pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and over high heat whisk immediately and vigorously until the mixture begins to resemble thick cream, about 1-2 minutes. Strain immediately into the bowl sitting on ice, and stir until cool. Refrigerate until completely cool.

VARIATIONS
To flavor your Crème Anglaise, steep ingredients in the milk. Coffee beans, lavender, lemon zest, cinnamon sticks, mint, chiles (open your mind) can all be added in this way. Additionally, 1-2 cups of a puree can be added when the custard is cooled, such as a fruit puree. Chocolate Anglaise can be made by using chocolate milk or by adding chopped chunks or chips into the finished Anglaise when it’s warm, allowing it to melt gently.

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