Creme Anglaise

I lived and worked in England for a time, where I became a fan of the rich, thick custard sauce known to Americans and to the French as crème anglaise. To my delight, the sauce topped nearly every dessert offered in the employee cafeteria where I worked. I noticed that les anglais would use the sauce almost the same way we Americans might use a scoop of ice cream—atop cakes, pies, fruit crisps, fresh fruit, and more.

The French also enjoy crème anglaise, though often rather than pouring the sauce atop a cake or tart, it’s served pooled onto the plate, either aside the dessert, or with the dessert set atop it. (P.S.: The English do not call this sauce crème anglais or English cream or anything of the sort. To them, it’s simply custard.)

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup half-and-half
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch salt

Place half-and-half in a medium saucepan. If using vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrap out seeds. Place seeds and pod in half-and-half. Heat over medium heat just until steaming. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove and discard pod. If not using vanilla bean, simply heat milk over medium heat until steaming (you’ll add the vanilla extract later).

In a medium bowl, whisk together yolks, sugar, and salt until thick and lemon colored. Slowly whisk warm half-and-half into egg mixture (if you add too much milk all at once, the eggs will curdle). Return half-and-half mixture to saucepan. Heat and stir over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, reaches 165°F on an instant-read thermometer, and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract, if using. If any of the egg mixture has curdled, strain the sauce through a fine-mesh sieve. Serve warm or chilled over cake, fruit, crumbles, tarts, and other desserts.

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