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When Needs Must and Your Custard Curdles

The other day, we decided to make a custard for our little one's first birthday and eat it on pie crust cookies with fresh berries. We read all of the instructions for custard in our Better Homes and Gardens Red and White cookbook, including all of the "Secrets to Successful Custards" and got started. Everything went along swimmingly: the eggs evenly distributed, the custard started thickening, and we kept stirring thinking, "It has to get thicker than this before it's done." It doesn't! indicates "Do not overcook," but no one says "If you heat your custard to the boiling point, it will clot and curd and turn into a very nasty looking globby mess." Sigh!

But no worries. Julia Child always said there is no cooking failure, which I have found to be true. In this case, I took a break from the disaster area to eat lunch with my girls, and it gave me some time to ponder. Voila, solution! I headed back over and scooped the whole lot still warm (I think that might be important) into the Vitamix, blended it up, put it in a bowl, topped it with parchment paper and popped it in the fridge. Wahoo, creamy custard again!

So, learnings from this experience:

  • Start checking the doneness of custard the minute it starts to thicken. It doesn't have to be terribly thick to be done.

  • If you misjudge and overcook your custard, all is not lost. Whip out your blender and you're good to go!

  • Following our custard misadventures, we made another batch, being very careful to check the doneness, and what do you know, our curdled custard turned out thicker and creamier than our "correctly" cooked custard. Although, I must say, neither turned out the thick sort of consistency I was expecting. That is okay, it tasted great with our berries and pie crust cookies and the left overs made a killer smoothy base.

Still in search of the ultimate custard, I have consulted with my fabulous brother, who is in the habit of making fantastic custard, and here is the recipe and directions you ought to use should you venture into the realms of delectable, decadent, and oh so fabulously good for you desserts:

  • 3-4 eggs (depending on the desired thickness)

  • 1/4 C Honey

  • 2 C Milk, or half and half, or cream

  • 1/2 t Vanilla

  • Mix everything except the vanilla until smooth. Cook on LOW heat stirring constantly until it coats the back of a spoon (see instructions for the spoon test below). Add the vanilla and put it in the fridge.

It seems that the major difference is the temperature he cooks it at. So really, don't rush this dessert. Use the stirring time to contemplate your place in the universe, and then use the eating time to decide the universe is a great place to be!

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