Justine Costigan

Beverley Sutherland Smith demonstrates her no-fail vanilla custard recipe. Click for more photos

How to make vanilla custard

Beverley Sutherland Smith demonstrates her no-fail vanilla custard recipe. Photo: Wayne Taylor

  • Step 1: Heat milk and cream until just bubbling around the edges.
  • Step 2: While the milk is heating, whisk the yolks, cornflour and sugar in a bowl ...
  • ... until thoroughly mixed.
  • Step 3: Slowly pour hot/cream into the egg mixture, whisking all the time.
  • Step 4: Return the mixture to the saucepan and place back on the heat.
  • Step 5: Whisk to keep the mixture moving until it comes back to the boil and thickens to taste.
  • The custard is ready when it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
  • Step 6: Take off the heat and mix in the vanilla.
  • The finished custard will be enough to serve two people as a stand alone dessert, or to accompany four serves of pudding or fruit.

Real custard, made with milk, cream, eggs, sugar and vanilla, is very simple to make and, especially in the colder months, is one of the simplest and most appreciated treats.

Custard can be used warm as a sauce, chilled to make a simple dessert to serve with fruit, used as a layer in a classic trifle, or flavoured with alcohol, chocolate, lemon or orange.

Beverley Sutherland Smith's custard recipe is the go-to for many Australians.
Beverley Sutherland Smith's custard recipe is the go-to for many Australians. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Beverley Sutherland Smith's custard recipe may be the go-to recipe in many Australian households. A professional cook since 1966 and the author of 27 cookbooks, she introduced many Australians to basic cooking, as well as French and Italian food. She now runs a cooking school in Melbourne and is about to open a children's cooking school in Prahran.

Sutherland Smith says custard is one of “the most delicious things” and is “very simple to make”. Unlike the French creme anglaise, which can be very runny, Sutherland Smith's recipe has a thick, smooth texture, perfect for pouring.

Traditionally, only a custard made without a thickening agent is referred to as a creme anglaise. With the addition of arrowroot, cornflour or flour, it becomes a creme patisserie. Sutherland Smith's version is somewhere between the two. The cornflour stabilises the mixture, making sure the custard has a smooth, creamy texture and reduces the possibility of the eggs overcooking.

This recipe is taken from Sutherland Smith's A Taste of Independence, first published in 1986 and no longer in print. It was a book designed to teach beginner cooks basic recipes. The custard recipe included in the book is still the one Sutherland Smith uses. “Once you've made this custard you won't hesitate to make it again,” she says.

“Custard is very versatile – it's lovely on its own, cold or hot, and is so delicious with poached or stewed fruit and hot puddings.”

General tips:

  • Sutherland Smith says provided you follow the recipe exactly, you won't have any problems. Make sure you don't overheat the milk and add it to the eggs very slowly. Always keep the custard moving with a whisk.
  • Custard can be made without cream, just leave it out and increase the milk to 1 1/2 cups.
  • Choose gluten-free cornflour, if you have friends with gluten intolerance.
  • Use the leftover egg whites to make meringues.
  • The recipe below is easily doubled if you're making it for a large group.

Reheating custard:

Reheat in a bain-marie (a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water) or briefly in a microwave. Don't reheat in a saucepan directly over the stove.


Beverley Sutherland Smith's vanilla custard

Ingredients:

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup cream

3 egg yolks

2 tablespoons of sugar

2 teaspoons cornflour

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and heat until it is just bubbling around the edges. Don't let it come to a complete boil.

While the milk is heating, whisk the yolks, cornflour and sugar in a bowl until thoroughly mixed.

Slowly pour the hot milk in a thin stream into the egg mixture, whisking all the time.

Return the mixture to the saucepan and place back on the heat. Whisk to keep the mixture moving until it comes back to the boil and thickens to taste. It only takes a few minutes. Take off the heat and mix in the vanilla.

If using immediately pour the custard into a serving dish or jug. If using cold, pour into a bowl and cover with a circle of baking paper to prevent a skin from forming.

Serves: 4 as a pouring sauce, two as a dessert on its own.

VARIATIONS

For chocolate custard add 1/3 cup of dark choc bits to the finished custard while still hot. Stir until the chocolate has melted and is incorporated into the mix.

If you want to use a vanilla bean, scrape beans into the milk and cream mixture and add the pod before heating.

Use lemon or orange rind to flavour the custard instead of vanilla. Add to the milk and cream before heating.

For brandy or sherry custard, add alcohol to taste after the custard has been taken off the heat.