When you hear the word custards we all think of pudding. Pudding, however, is a word that can describe many different types of dishes in the culinary world. There are savory dishes such as blood sausage that are also knows as puddings. For the purpose of this chapter we are going to discuss the custards that are served in restaurants as dessert.
There are two types of main custards: cooked and baked.
These types are cooked and the liquid used is thickened by the coagulation of the egg proteins that are added.
When cooking custards the internal temperature cannot be more than 185 F. Anything above this will cause the proteins in the egg to curdle.
- Syneresis is the sudden release of moisture contained within protein molecules, usually caused by excessive heat, which over-hardens the protein shell. Moisture inside expands upon heating. The hard protein shell pops, expelling the moisture.
Therefore, when a baked custard is over cooked, the water seeps through causing holes in the custard.
Stirred Custards – these custards are cooked over a heat source and are stirred to reach the desired level of thickness. It can then be poured into a pan, covered and refrigerated.
- Crème anglaise – this is a stirred vanilla custard sauce.
- Pastry Cream – a cooked custard that is thicken with both corn starch and egg. This is gives a much more stable and thicker product.
- Blancmange – this a custard that is thickened with only cornstarch. Can be poured or molded depending on the amount of starch used.
- Cream puddings – these are similar to pastry cream but with less starch. They take flavorings well and are suited to fillings for custard pies.
- Gelatin set custards – ‘panna cotta’ – the milk and cream is heated, and sweetened with sugar then the bloomed gelatin is added to the hot liquid to melt it. The mixture is poured into mold and chilled until set.
- Crémeux – In French, the word means “creamy”. The thickening agents are usually one of these three: gelatin, chocolate, or butter.
Baked Custards – these custards are baked in the oven until the custard is firm. It is then removed, cooled and then covered and put under refrigeration.
The make-up is similar to that of the stirred custards. They contain dairy, sugar, and eggs (usually whole eggs). The whole egg gives the custard more stability and a thicker texture. While using just the yolks makes the custard richer with a softer texture. Baked custards are versatile. They can be stand-alone desserts, pie fillings, and as bases for other desserts. A good quality baked custard will hold a clean sharp edge when cut.
Baked Custard Procedure
- The milk or cream is scaled, and slowly incorporated into the eggs. This aid is a reduced cooking time, and allows for a more evenly cooked product.
- Once the base is finished mixing skim off the excess foam. Left in the when finished cooking they will mar the finished custards appearance.
- Bake the custards at a 325 F. Lower temperature allows for less chance of overcooking and curdling the custards.
- A water bath is usually used for most custards. This allows the custard to cook evenly as a whole. The outside edges cook evenly with the middle of the custard.
- To determine if the custard is done, you can use a thin bladed knife. Insert it into the center of the custard and if it comes out clean, it is done. There will be come carry over cooking due to the residual heat of the custard. Therefore, if the center is set but not completely it will finish cooking once out of the oven.
Other types of baked custards
Some baked custards have additives such as pumpkin or sweet potato pies. These are still considered baked custards because of the additions of eggs, which are used to set the structure of the custard. They do not require a water bath to bake but the lower temperature aids in even cooking.
Cheesecakes also fall into this category. The custard is thicker but the eggs are still the ingredient that gives the cake structure. It is baked using the water bath due to the density of the product. Even cooking is need to produce a smooth finish once cooked. Over cooking will cause the cheesecake to crack. Once done you can turn off the oven, crack the over door and allow to cool in the oven.
These puddings are cooked using steam. They can be done in a commercial steamer or by creating the steamer on the stovetop. There are a few varieties but the most common is the Christmas pudding also known as plum pudding. These then to be very dense and rich. They are usually served when the weather is colder to warm one up.