I made coconut macaroons yesterday. This recipe is an Ole to their Lena, a Hardy to their Laurel. It’s a pairing recipe in every sense, a frugal sister to egg-white only recipes, and a happy partner for a crumble or a figgy pudding or a slice of chocolate cake. You could eat it with a spoon, a kind of childhood dessert, simple and comforting, and oft overlooked. But I think it’s best as half of a pair. And it’s awfully nice to have a little jar of vanilla custard in the refrigerator when the mood strikes. You’ll find yourself dribbling it on all sorts of things—into a pool over a sugared biscuit, or nested in a trifle between layers of sherry-soaked gènoise and homemade jam. I first had this kind of pourable custard when I was a student at Oxford, with a gooseberry crumble, a doubly happy discovery. I was a visiting student at Keble College, and I had finally learned that if you didn’t get your paws in there to grab the family style platters of the night’s offerings, you might sit the entire dinner, quietly and politely, holding up a platter in the hopes that one of the waitstaff would kindly refill it. Alas, you might also walk away hungry. I was even more shy then than I am now, so I left more than once without a single morsel crossing my lips. (Thank goodness for pub grub. ) But on a student budget, I eventually learned to get in there and fight for my supper. Thank goodness I got my act together before they served the gooseberry crumble with a pourable, old-fashioned custard like this one. Mine is less gummy than the version served in the Keble dining hall. It’s thicker than crème anglaise but not quite a pudding, a dreamy partner for just about anything sweet, and especially so for anything tart (like the rhubarb crumble I've posted here). Since it only takes a few minutes to stir up, make it when you next make something with egg whites and need an Astaire to your Rogers. —ALittleZaftig
Fill your kitchen sink with a few inches of ice water. This will be your insurance policy against grainy or curdled custard. I find this much simpler than the whole double boiler routine, but if you're nervous about it, cook the custard in a pan over simmering water.
Place the egg yolks in a medium saucepan and give them a quick whisk.
Add the cream and whisk together thoroughly.
Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out its pulp with the dull side of a knife.
Add the pulp and the vanilla bean to the pan and whisk together.
Whisk in the sugar.
Over medium heat, warm the soon-to-be custard, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Do not allow it to boil.
Stir more vigorously as the custard begins to thicken. Watch carefully here. You want a silky, thickened custard but do not want the custard to become grainy. Keep in mind that the chilled custard will be a bit thicker than the hot.
If your custard appears grainy, plunge the pan into the ice water in your sink, and whisk madly. It will come around. Actually, I always whisk it in the sink, as it brings the temperature of the custard down so that you can eat it sooner.