Retro Dessert Recipe: Stirred Egg Custard

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As I was paging through some of my Southern community cookbooks in search of inspiration for Dessert Week, I kept stumbling over various recipes for "boiled custard." I consider myself pretty Southern, but boiled custard is not something I grew up eating, nor would I have wanted to with that awful sounding name. But upon further examination of the ingredients I realized it's actually something I've enjoyed many times over in various forms...

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Turns out, boiled custard isn't much more than a variation of our European friends' recipes for pots de crème, pudding, or zabaglione. In fact, it really is just like my favorite vanilla ice cream recipe, minus the freezer. Since I love eating the ice cream custard straight from the bowl, I figured what is the harm in whipping some up "boiled custard" for an after-dinner treat.

My personal spin, "Stirred egg custard," (I changed the name for my appetite's sake) uses the most basic of pantry ingredients and comes together in just 20 minutes. No baking needed! Now that's my kind of dessert. I tested the recipe a couple of times and decided that scraped vanilla bean, while not traditional, really ups the flavor punch. I also tried one batch with cornstarch and one without: both are delicious. If you want a more drinkable custard, omit the starch. If you like a little more "oomph," than by all means throw it in.

This simple dessert is so sweet and satisfying; it's a pure shame it ever went out of fashion. Well, I'm all for bringing it back. Hooray for the classics!

What about you? Did your parents ever make you custard for dessert? Or any sort of creamy stovetop treat?

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Stirred Egg Custard

Serves 4 to 6

2 cups whole milk
1/2 vanilla bean, sliced and scraped
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Homemade whipped cream, for garnish
Freshly ground nutmeg, for garnish

Combine milk, vanilla beans, and the vanilla bean pod in a very heavy saucepan (a Le Creuset works well here). Heat on medium-low to medium heat until the milk is hot and small bubbles are forming around the sides of the pan.

Meanwhile, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks until frothy. Add the sugar, cornstarch, and salt and continue stirring until well combined and a lighter yellow color. Stir a cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture and beat to combine. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the remaining milk in the saucepan.

Reduce heat to low to medium-low and cook the custard, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully, stirring constantly towards the end to make sure the eggs don't overcook. Remove the saucepan from the stove. Whisk in vanilla and stir the custard for another minute or so to release some of the heat.

Allow to cool. Serve at room temperature or refrigerated. Garnish with lightly whipped cream and freshly ground nutmeg.

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Related: Pudding Versus Custard: What's Your Pleasure?

(Images: Nealey Dozier)

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Nealey Dozier is a former wedding planner turned chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, and food writer. She is based in Atlanta. You can find more of her Southern adventures in eating and entertaining at www.dixiecaviar.com.

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