On my first visit to London many years ago, I ordered a bowl of apple crumble for dessert in a casual eatery catering to students. It was so good that I went back the next night for another serving. I wanted to figure out why the dish seemed so much better than the very similar apple crisp that I enjoyed every autumn at home in New England.
I finally decided that the difference wasn’t the apple variety or the recipe. It was the custard that topped each serving. Thick, silky, and redolent of vanilla, the delicious custard just seemed so much more elegant than my usual scoop of vanilla ice cream. Even the custard’s more formal name—crème anglaise—lent a certain sophistication to a homey dessert.
It does require a bit more effort to whip up a batch of crème anglaise than to pop open a carton of ice cream. So I don’t make it often. But when I do, I enjoy the little ceremony of pouring the crème anglaise from a pitcher onto each bowl of apple crisp.
I may be making crème anglaise more often since I discovered the following recipe in the new book, The Wholefood Pantry by Amber Rose (Kyle Books, $29.95). Rose, who grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Great Britain, offers 175 of what she calls her “essential go-to recipes” for healthy and tasty meals. For the most part, the recipes are quick to make and are not burdened with too many ingredients. But Rose often finds an herb or other seasoning that makes her dishes stand out. That’s certainly true of her very British Vanilla Custard. She introduces what I think of as a taste of New England with the addition of maple syrup. Here is her recipe.
1/2 vanilla bean
2 1/2 cups whole milk
4 extra-large egg yolks
3-4 tablespoons maple syrup
Put the vanilla bean and milk in a medium saucepan, and bring slowly to a boil. Just before it starts to bubble, remove from the heat.
Whisk the egg yolks and maple syrup in a large bowl.
Remove the vanilla bean from the hot milk, and slowly pour the milk into the egg yolk mix, whisking all the time.
Use the tip of a sharp knife to split open the vanilla bean, and scrape out the seeds into the custard mixture.
Return the mixture to the pan, and stir over gentle heat until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Be very careful not to allow the mixture to boil, or it will split.
Once the custard has reached the desired thickness, pour the custard into a cool pitcher or pouring bowl. (If you leave the custard in the pan, even away from the heat, it can still split from the residual heat at the base of the pan.)
Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to prevent a skin from forming.
Serve warm or cold.