“My heart beats lumpy custard.” What a peculiar thing to say, but I think mine really does sometimes, and smooth silken custard too. You see custard is one of the simplest and most comforting desserts. I grew up with Moir’s custard powder – don’t judge, it still makes a very welcoming treat. I don’t really care whether it is thin, lumpy or (brace yourself,) has a skin on it – I love it! But making it from scratch really takes it to a whole new level. It is transformed from nursery pudding to fine dining dessert, although it does not lose a smidge of its sheer comfort and loving embrace – though I must concede I sometimes miss the characteristic custard yellow, which is sadly missing. The taste and unctuous texture, though, is unparalleled and the vanilla speckles never cease to thrill me. Do not be daunted, this is easy cooking, foolproof really, yet it always seems to impress. We sadly do not yet have a fabulous fruit supplier, but pears are in season, so go out and buy yourself some, get some healthful New Dawn eggs, some fantastic Mooberry milk and cream and treat someone to a dinner party!
For the Custard
6 egg yolks
100g unrefined sugar
1tsp vanilla powder
For the Pears
1 pear per person
± ¾ bottle red wine
½ cup sugar
stick of cinnamon
2 star anise
2 cardamom pods
You should start with the pears, they need to cook nice and gently for about an hour. Put the wine, sugar and spices into a pot large enough to hold the pears, but not so big the wine is too shallow; turn the heat up high and bring to the boil. Boil for about 5mins while you carefully peel a pear per person, taking care to keep the stalk in tact and peeling a little extra at the bottoms so they can stand when you serve. Place the pears in the pot, laying them on their sides and if they are not submerged make sure that you turn them frequently so they are evenly coloured and flavoured. Turn the heat down to a simmer, put on the lid and leave until the pears are garnet-gorgeous and delectably tender – just remember to check and turn!
Pour your milk and cream into a pot and turn up to medium-high. Add the vanilla – I use vanilla powder for convenience, but if you want to use a vanilla pod, slice in half, scrape, put the seeds and beans into the milk mixture. I bring it to the boil and then leave to infuse for as long as I can before removing the beans and gently reheating…you see that is why I use powder! Take the pan off the heat. Separate the eggs, making sure to keep the whites for meringues or some fat conscious omelettes. Beat in the sugar and cornflour until incorporated and add a little of the boiled milk, mixing well and making sure the milk is not too hot. Then pour the egg mixture into the pot and start stirring. Place the pot back on a very gentle heat and whisk until thickened. This should not take too long, but do watch it, it must not boil or get too hot, you don’t want sweet scrambled eggs! When the custard can coat the back of a wooden spoon and pass the line test, remove from the heat.
We have a friend – Raul- who comes from the finest Spanish stock! He makes a spicier custard redolent with the flavours of Spain. He uses a litre of milk, also 6 yolks, a cinnamon stick and the zest of half a lemon (not fine but with a peeler.) He adds no cornflour. This is a recipe that comes with love and pride from his Castellan family and it is absolutely delicious! The hints of spice are subtle but they transform the custard into something far more exotic. The texture is thinner and slightly less predictable and because there is no cream, it is not quite as rich. But you can play around with options here.
When your pears are tender after about an hour, remove them from the pot and reduce your cooking liquor until more sticky and able to drizzle. Place your pears upright when you serve them, thoroughly glazed with the sauce and marooned in a silken lake of custard. Or just serve the custard on the side in a serving jug!
I love this dessert after a rich and hearty Oxtail, but quite honestly, it would suit me just fine almost anytime! Alter your spices to your preference, I love cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, but vanilla, clove even a little chillie are great too! Poaching is the perfect way to enhance the flavour of blandish fruit, so don’t go get the best pears you can find… or do, they’ll still taste heavenly!