My mother tells me that I loved the custard my Great-Grandma Viola used to cook. I don't remember the custard specifically like I do her soft boiled eggs and roasted squash, or how she kept a steady supply of Honeycomb cereal stashed in the tin pail that used to carry her girlhood lunches. That was the first sugared cereal I ever tasted, and my cousins and I raided that tin pail every chance we got. Not only did she supply us with forbidden sugar, but Great-Grandma also had CABLE TELEVISION. Not that we had a chance to watch anything remotely scandalous like Happy Days reruns. (That Fonzie had very tight pants.) No, Great-Grandma had an inexplicable fondness for religious programming, specifically Jerry Falwell. Even at that tender age, I would have rather cleaned the cat box with a teaspoon than watched Mr. Falwell in action. But I digress...
CUSTARD, my friends. It's glorious, don't you think so? I began my custard ruminations after a lively discussion with some UK writer friends about its fine qualities. I kept testing the limits of their custard devotion until finally I proposed digging a giant pit in the back yard and filling it with the stuff. This is what happens when writerly imaginations run amok, you end up battling your editor in custard. In our hypothetical bout my money's on Ren. She's an Essex girl who hates to lose. (Apparently being from Essex makes you terribly gritty and determined.)
As organizer of the event (and trainer of otters, but that's a completely different flight of fancy that we shan't explore at the moment) it's my job to make the custard. Believe it or not, I'm a complete and utter custard novice. I dug out my trusted 1965 Fanny Farmer Cookbook and set about cooking. Within minutes I had a curdled icky mess in the double boiler. Fanny made it seem so quick and easy. My mother's reply when regaled with the tragedy was, "didn't you temper the eggs?" Um, no. Fanny didn't tell me to. Clouded by custard confusion, I surveyed my culinary friends.
Erik is a chef, and when he says things like "break down the proteins" and "ice bath," I sit up in attention and take notes. As y'all know, cooking chemistry just rings my chimes. He took my basic recipe and tweaked it significantly, all the while explaining how the ingredients would react and come together. I didn't follow his instructions exactly, because his recipe was for a stiff custard that would be baked in cups, as for a creme brulee. I wanted soft velvety custard.
3 eggs, 1/4 Cup sugar, 2 Cups cream, 1 Tbs vanilla, dash salt
Combine eggs and sugar in double boiler and whisk. (this is where the proteins are being broken down) I put the saucepan on very low heat.
In a second saucepan combine cream, vanilla, and salt. Heat until just under boiling. Remove from heat.
In tiny increments, drip scalded cream mixture into eggs, whisking the entire time. (This is advice from a different culinary friend who makes custard tarts. I'm already bothering him for the recipe.) It's imperative that you do this slowly and in tiny quantities so the eggs don't cook rapidly and chunk up the custard. Continue whisking for seven minutes or so until mixture coats a spoon. Take it from someone who has done this several times now. It's a thin line between curdled chunky custard and smooth as satin custard. The second it clings to a spoon, pour the custard into an ice bath. This halts the cooking and will allow the custard to set. After a few minutes, place it in the fridge to finish chilling.
After the ice bath, Erik advised to pour the custard into cups, place in a water bath and bake at 225 degrees until custard had firmly set. I skipped the final steps, mostly because I'm lazy. Instead, I allowed it to chill several hours and then gleefully ate it.
I'm fully aware that this is actually a chocolate cup, but it's still too hot to contemplate hot chocolate. It turned out to be perfect for custard, and it didn't make me sweat. (I borrowed Little Bear's wee spoon to compliment it.)