Proper Custard

Let’s pretend it’s still raining outside and instead of enjoying the sunshine, we’re all thinking about blankets and hot chocolate. Frankly, custard is a winter comfort food, and I think it has no place in summer. But that might just be me…So let’s pretend.

During winter I’ve been making custard fairly regularly. And, needless to say (because it’s me, and because I’m a strange combination of fussy and curious), there are several recipes that I’ve used for custard, and they all talk about being “proper custard” or “real custard”. Maybe they’re just trying to make the point that this is legit, actually made from scratch, not-that-rubbish-custard-powder-nonsense, custard. But I like to think these recipe and their makers are harking back to the oldest form of custard they know of – the most traditional recipe they can find. Probably not, but I’ll keep persisting in my romanticised notions of perfect baking.

So, naturally, these recipes are all from British heavyweights (I was about to say that they’re the best British heavyweights going around, but then recalled about five others that are just as brilliant. So I’m going to go ahead and stick with “British heavyweights” as the only descriptive term in that sentence and stop myself from proclaiming my undying loyalty to only these three British cooks…). In case you’re wondering, it’s Jamie, Mary and Hugh. That is, Jamie Oliver (of course), Mary Berry (how could you skip her?!), and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who isn’t overly well-known, but I think does quality, home-cooked, wintry British food to perfection. And custard fits into that category very, very nicely.

Now, you might be wondering why I didn’t add Nigella into that mix. It’s a fair question – she is the queen. But to be honest, when I thought of custard, I didn’t think of Nigella. But now I’m curious, so I might add her recipe to the others’ too!

The first time I made Jamie’s recipe, I almost died of joy. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m well aware that food brings happiness and joy – that’s half the reason I do this. But tasting that custard, it was absolute perfection. It was the first time I’d had custard in a few months at least, maybe even years, and it had definitely been a couple of years since I had eaten proper, homemade custard, so that probably aided the joy. But it was so good, I’ve never been able to duplicate it!

I made Hugh’s recipe out of curiosity to see if it were any different from Jamie’s, but it’s essentially exactly the same! The only difference is that Hugh adds some cornflour to stabilise the custard (which also means you can freeze it successfully!). And Mary Berry’s recipe is the same – though she uses more milk than cream, and as far as I can tell, there’s no difference. So if you don’t have much cream, substitute with milk – it seems to work.

But here’s Jamie’s recipe – they say you never forget your first love, so here it is: the best custard recipe I have ever tried. Although, before you start, here are a couple of tricks to keep in mind when making custard:

  1. Heating the milk/cream: make sure it’s hot, but don’t, under any circumstances let it boil! When it boils it risks curdling the egg!
  2. Adding the hot cream to the egg: make sure you add only a little bit of the cream mixture to the egg yolks and sugar to start with and make sure you mix it in very quickly! Too slowly and it might curdle, again!
  3. Cooking the custard: in the last part of the recipe, you will reheat the custard to thicken it slightly. Now, it’s amazingly tempting to keep cooking the custard until it’s nicely thick and luscious. BUT DON’T. You can only reheat it for a minute or two! Any longer and you most likely will curdle it – and curdled custard just doesn’t taste good. So even if it means you have super thin custard, just take it off the heat and don’t over cook it!!


Proper Custard



140ml cream

125ml milk

2 tbs sugar

2 egg yolks

1 vanilla bean


  1. Place cream, milk, half the sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan and heat over low heat until mixture is hot, but not boiling. Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  2. In a large bowl or jug whisk egg yolks and the remaining sugar until pale.
  3. Add one ladleful of hot milk mixture to the yolk mixture and whisk immediately to incorporate.
  4. Slowly add the rest of the hot mixture, whisking the whole time so as not to curdle the mixture.
  5. Once it’s all combined, return to the saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring for just a few minutes to thicken it. It should coat the back of a spoon.


Storage – Be aware that custard only keeps for about 48 hours, so eat it quickly or freeze it. If you want to freeze it, you’ll have to add some cornflour to stabilise it. You can add 1 tsp of cornflour at step 2.

Adapting the recipe – You can easily multiply or divide the recipe depending on how many yolks you have.

Best served…fresh and warm with a pudding or winter-ish cake!


Happy Baking!


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