Crème Anglaise is a dessert sauce made from a pourable custard. It is classically flavored with vanilla, although other flavorings such as coffee, chocolate, or fruit may be used. In addition to being used as a sauce, it is also used as the base for other desserts, like ice cream and pastry cream. Making this sauceit is relatively easy to do at home, and the versatile sauce can be a useful way to dress up cakes and tortes for dinner parties.
In French, crème Anglaise means “English cream,” although the reason for identifying the light custard with England is a bit unclear. Whatever the origins, it is made by cooking a custard on a stove top, rather than baking it as is the case with crème brulee and similar desserts. Cooking the sauce on a stove top allows cooks to precisely control its consistency.
To make crème Anglaise, start by scalding 2 cups (473 ml) of milk in a saucepan while whisking five egg yolks together with 1 cup (200 g) of sugar in another heavy pan. Typically, the sauce is flavored by adding a single crushed vanilla bean to the milk while it heats. Other flavorings may be added in when it is removed from the heat. When the egg yolk mixture has turned pale and creamy, slowly pour the hot milk in, continually stirring it, and then turn the heat to low and cook the custard until it coats the back of a spoon. This recipe can easily be enlarged if more is needed.
To remove chunks and the vanilla bean, if one has been added, strain the crème Anglaise through a sieve and allow it to cool before refrigerating it. The sauce will keep under refrigeration for around five days. If you plan on using it to dress desserts, consider putting it into a squeeze bottle so that you can artfully squirt it onto the food. Otherwise, keep it in an airtight container.
For a more rich crème Anglaise, use half-and-half or light cream, or add more egg yolks. Thicken it with cornstarch to turn it into pastry cream, the classic filling for eclairs. To make ice cream, pour the sauce into an ice cream maker, pack the ice cream maker with ice and salt, and churn until the ice cream has set, usually around 20 minutes with a hand cranked ice cream maker.