Crème Anglaise is one the classic dessert sauces. It is flourless, thin custard. The classic version is flavoured with vanilla but many variations exist. Lemon, orange, chocolate and coffee are some of the many other flavours that might be introduced. If possible use a vanilla pod or bean, but natural vanilla extract can also be used. The vanilla pod will give a superior flavour and the sauce will be flecked with the tiny vanilla seeds whose appearance in the sauce adds visual interest. Best quality eggs make an enormous difference to the colour and flavour of the sauce.
- 600ml full fat milk
- 1 vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 6 free range egg yolks
- 55g castor sugar
- The vitally important cooking tip here is that the sauce must not boil at any stage of the cooking. If it boils the sauce will scramble and the silky consistency will be lost.
- Bring the milk almost to the boil with the vanilla pod. Remove from the heat, allowing the vanilla pod to infuse the milk.
- Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and light. If you are adding vanilla extract, add it in now.
- Pour in the hot milk gradually, whisking all of the time. Replace in a clean saucepan with the vanilla pod and cook on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly with a flat-bottomed wooden spoon.
- The custard must not boil, so keep a close eye on what is happening in the saucepan and the heat under it as well.
- Be patient and eventually the custard will thicken slightly, not dramatically though, and just enough to leave a light trail along the back of the wooden spoon when a finger is drawn through it.
- Remember this sauce is served with a thin consistency and also remember that it thickens a little as it cools.
- Immediately remove from the heat and pass the custard through a sieve into a clean, cold bowl to cool at room temperature.
- To maximise the flavour and appearance of the vanilla in the sauce, cut the vanilla pod in half and squeeze the oily-looking seeds into the sauce. When whisked this thick black liquid disperses into thousands of tiny little flecks of vanilla.
- Stir it several times as it cools as even though it may be perfect leaving the saucepan, sometimes it can inexplicably curdle as it cools. The occasional whisk as it is cooling seems to prevent this from happening.
- Once the sauce is cool, it can be covered and stored for a couple of days in the fridge, though it is without doubt best on the day it is made.
- Serve the sauce with fresh summer berries, autumn blackberries flavoured with sweet geranium, fruit compotes, meringues, chocolate desserts, bread and butter pudding and even an old-fashioned baked apple.
- Note: sometimes, despite your best efforts, the sauce will scramble slightly. If this happens, use a handheld blender or liquidiser to 'buzz' the sauce for just a few seconds. This usually returns the sauce to the required smooth consistency.