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Making Creme Anglaise and similar


TheSwede
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When making a Creme Anglaise and similar egg/milk/cream based sauces, the heating phase is obviously the critical. You heat slowly, stir, stir stir (to avoid sticking and burning in the bottom of the pan) and wait for the magical thickening to happen. Once it happens (is it thick enough?) you need to remove from the heat to avoid boiling.

This is actually quite tedious! You definitely need to devote your full attention to the process, it takes some time and a mistake can ruin the whole process.

Straining the sauce afterwards is an easy way to remove small misstakes (ie particles from coagulation in the bottom of the pan). Since I'm quite inexperienced I also use a digital thermometer to avoid overheating (80C/176F seems to be the magical temperature).

Does anyone has any other tricks or shortcuts to make the process any easier?

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c) Use Birds Custard. Few can tell the differnce.

Yep. I don't use the Bird's custard on it's own but I do use the powder as a thickener/stabilizer. I picked that one up from the Duby's in Wild Sweets. With their dedication to flavor, I figure if they use it for that purpose it must not be too bad.

It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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It doesn't have to be tedious. The trick is to become sensitive to the consistency of the sauce, so you know when to take it off the heat. When you figure this out, there's no need to do it over low heat. I do it over medium or meidium-high heat, and it never takes more than a couple of minutes, and I've never had it curdle.

I likee to stir the saucepan with a flat wood or bamboo spatula. Whatever you use, make sure it gets all the way into the corners, and make sure you're constantly stirring/scraping the bottom and the corners. This is where sauce is likely to curldle if it sits still too long.

Watch the waves that the sauce makes. In the beginning it will slosh quickly like a thin liquid. As it reaches the right temp (around 165 degrees) it will suddenly make larger, slower waves. You may even see the bottom of the pan appearing and vanishing. If you're still not sure, run your finger across the back of the spatula. It should draw a line through a thick coating of sauce, and the line shouldn't drip over.

When you're sure it's thickened, keep stirring over the heat for 15 seconds, and then pull the pan completely off the burner. Keep stirring off the heat for an additional 30 seconds. These final steps help insure that it will be throughly thickened, but not overcooked.

A responsive pan helps. I'm also partial to slope-sided saucepans for this, since they make it easier to get into the corners.

Notes from the underbelly

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When making a Creme Anglaise and similar egg/milk/cream based sauces, the heating phase is obviously the critical. You heat slowly, stir, stir stir (to avoid sticking and burning in the bottom of the pan) and wait for the magical thickening to happen. Once it happens (is it thick enough?) you need to remove from the heat to avoid boiling.

This is actually quite tedious! You definitely need to devote your full attention to the process, it takes some time and a mistake can ruin the whole process.

Straining the sauce afterwards is an easy way to remove small misstakes (ie particles from coagulation in the bottom of the pan). Since I'm quite inexperienced I also use a digital thermometer to avoid overheating (80C/176F seems to be the magical temperature).

Does anyone has any other tricks or shortcuts to make the process any easier?

Does not have to be tedious if you bring the milk/cream up to a full boil before tempering in the yolks. This way it only takes a few minutes. Stirring all the time, wait for the foam to disappear then get it off the heat immediately. I also use the thermometer when teaching as students almost always bust their first one. Straining the sauce right into an icebath prevents overcooking as well.

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Thanks for the advice! I've found myself suddenly doing a couple of Creme Anglaise -ish sauces the last couple of days (a few ice cream bases and a Créme Catalan foam ala el Bulli) and I belive I'm starting to get the hang of it. I still do it the careful way though, low heat, long time and digital thermometer.

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To add to Paul's advice:

Just before the sauce is thickened, you will notice a lot of steam rising. That means that the sauce is close to being done.

Also, if you ever find yourself in professional kitchen making gallons of creme anglaise, remember the magic of carryover cooking: As the sauce begins to steam, take the pot off the stove and chill it over an ice bath. A large volume of sauce will retain its heat long enough to thicken the sauce without further cooking--and remember, it only takes a couple of degrees to turn this luscious custard into snot soup.

(You don't want to know how I learned this valuable lesson. It was heartbreaking, really)

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I've been making very similar sauces as a custard base for ice cream, and I've got a few (likely misguided) technique questions I've been wondering about.

1) Is tempering the eggs necessary if one is not scalding the milk first? I've been tempering at about 70C (160F) then bringing the mix up to 85C (185F), but I've seen some recipes that just bring the egg/milk/cream/sugar smoothly up to full temperature.

2) Do dried egg yolks work well? I'm tempted by the time savings of not separating the eggs, the ease of not worrying about pasteurization, and the lack of guilt when I can't figure out what to do with all the egg whites.

3) I've seen some recipes that keep the cream unheated, make the custard with milk/eggs/sugar, and then add it to the cream to start the cooling. Is this a good idea?

4) Similarly, could one make the custard with only part of the milk and use the rest to cool? I feel silly buying high quality milk and then re-pasteurizing it such a long time.

5) Does anyone have experience making these in a steam kettle? It seems like it would be a very controlled way to make a large quantity, but I've never used one. I've currently been making small (1-2 gallon) batches on the stove top, but would like to be able to do 10 gallon batches.

Thanks!

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  • 2 weeks later...
Just started rereading Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This. He says that just "a pinch" of flour in your creme anglaise will stop curdling and will even allow boiling without any problem.

Interesting. Does he explain why it works?

i have a feeling it is along the same lines as pastry cream using flour or corn starch...the starch granules help to protect the egg proteins.

i wouldn't really trust a pinch of flour though.

i've made up to (at least) five gallons on the stove without any problems. i have heard of other kitchens using a steam kettle for large batches...BUT, you don't have the ability with a steam kettle to control the heat in such a way that when it is ready to come off the heat you get instant cooling. the jacket usually holds the heat in and will continue to cook your anglaise while you are draining it into your ice bath. i'd rather just stick to the old fashioned method.

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For creme anglaise, I've been successfully using the recipe published in the November/December 2006 issue of Cook's Illustrated. The egg yolks, sugar, salt, cream, and half & half are all mixed together, then heated to 175 degrees. Stir constantly, and watch for the visual clues (mentioned above) that the custard is done. Works perfectly every time.

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Just started rereading Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This. He says that just "a pinch" of flour in your creme anglaise will stop curdling and will even allow boiling without any problem.

Interesting. Does he explain why it works?

He certainly does. But I'm not biochemist enough to quote him on the top of my head. Will look it up when I'm in front of my home computer next time.

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Just started rereading Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This. He says that just "a pinch" of flour in your creme anglaise will stop curdling and will even allow boiling without any problem.

Interesting. Does he explain why it works?

He certainly does. But I'm not biochemist enough to quote him on the top of my head. Will look it up when I'm in front of my home computer next time.

I'd like to hear from someone who's tried it ... i'm not trusting enough to do it when people are waiting to be fed.

Notes from the underbelly

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