Making egg custard with Tristan Welch

How do you cook custard properly?
19 November 2019

Interview with 

Tristan Welch, Parker's Tavern


Parker's Tavern Chef Tristan Welch demonstrates how to make a proper egg custard


Whether it’s hot or cold, like most of us get our custard by making it from custard powder, or straight from the tin. But, to a purist, neither of those are actually custard at all. The real stuff involves eggs, cream, and careful cooking. And to find out more, Phil Sansom went over to Parker’s Tavern in Cambridge to meet head chef Tristan Welch...

Tristan - Custard is probably up there with my top three sauces of all time!

Phil - Why does it rank so high?

Tristan -It's home memories, it's childhood memories actually, it is a very comforting creamy sauce that reminds me certainly of great family occasions.

Phil - Why don't you show me a little bit about how to make it? Let's start off!

Tristan - Yeah absolutely. So let's start by making a really classical custard or the French might call it "Creme Anglaise". All we need really is egg yolks, cream and sugar with an infusion of vanilla.

Phil - At a fundamental level, is this what custard really is?

Tristan - This is the complete definition of custard. This is what every other custard has been based upon. 

Phil - Eggs, milk, cream, and sugar with a bit of vanilla.

Tristan - Custard is the building block. One of the foundations of the modern world's desserts and anything else to do with a kitchen, a quiche for instance.

Phil - No.

Tristan - Of course the quiches are custard.

Phil - I don't believe you.

Tristan - Yeah a quiche, a flan and ice creams and other custards actually.

Phil - Ice creams a custard?

Tristan - Yeah absolutely. Actually what we're doing here is a classical custard base but if you take this custard and you put it in ice cream machine - you've got vanilla ice cream!

Phil - Is it still custard though?

Tristan - Of course.

Phil - I'm finding out that a lot of things are custard but I didn't realise everything is custard!

Tristan - It all comes down to custard.

Phil - Let's make a start on this. You've got your pan here on this induction stove, this mini almost hot plate.

Tristan - That's basically ticking away with our milk, cream of vanilla and creating an infusion. Now in this bowl here, I'm mixing sugar and egg yolks and that's going to give our milk and cream consistency, because when the egg yolks cook the proteins coagulate a bit it creates a viscosity, so a thickness to the milk and cream and that is really what we know as custard. So, are milk and cream has been infusing with our vanilla for about 20 minutes a gentle simmer. The aroma is just fantastic! It's like childhood memories coming back. It's like a sweet shop. Now I've got eggs and sugar, I'm gently going to pour on the milk and cream - this is called tempering the eggs. This is really important. If you pour the eggs into the milk and cream, it will scramble them. So you pour about half of the milk and cream onto the eggs. Then put that into the pan safely without splitting.

Phil - And what do you mean by splitting?

Tristan - Basically if you cook the eggs too fast, it looks a little bit like scrambled eggs floating in water.

Phil - And if I understand correcrtly, custard is all about cooking it to the point before it splits and you get the scrambled egg horribleness?

Tristan - Absolutely. The magic temperature here to get it in to is about 82 degrees centigrade.

Phil - You can see now it is already thicker.

Tristan - Yeah. Absolutely. Mmm. Never trust a chef who doesn't eat his own food.

Phil - Is it my turn?

Tristan - Yeah. You have a taste!

Phil - That's gorgeous.

Tristan - Shall I show you how this goes wrong?

Phil - Yes.

Tristan - Ok. Let's overcook it goes completely. This goes against my DNA! By the way so what I'll do, I'm going to take out half of it now. So only ruin a part of it! I'm just taking it above a safe level to cook at for an egg. So I'm essentially going to boil it and you can see the bubbles coming up there now.

Phil - Oh no. There's little solid bits forming in this beautiful lovely custard.

Tristan - There you go. Watery. It's like essentially is curds and whey! It has started to look disgusting, starting to smell disgusting.

Phil - So Tristan. How often do you make custard in your kitchen?

Tristan - More than daily. Our pastry chef probably makes a custard about 12 to 15 times a day.

Phil - That's a lot of custard.

Tristan - It's a lot of custard.

Phil - A lot of eggs! Now I know that if someone couldn't eat eggs for whatever reason, this would be a good custard alternative. What are you making now?

Tristan - So this is custard powder. This was the first custard that I knew and it's the first custard which a lot of people knew in the U.K.

Phil - It's custard as I would make it.

Tristan - So this is a custard powder. Basically the recipe is vanilla extract, corn flour and colouring. We actually use this in some of our recipes in the pastry kitchen, instead of cornflour because it is so high in corn flour.

Phil - Now how can it be custard, if it doesn't have that crucial ingredient the eggs?

Tristan - It's like vegetarian burgers without the beef; poetic license is allowed, I think.

Phil - How does it work then if it's mainly corn flour?

Tristan - Because it's got the corn starch in it. You have to mix it with the cold milk and you bring it gently up to the boil. So what I'm going to do here, I've got a custard powder and you've got to add a little bit of sugar to it and our milk. I'll just mix those. You have to keep it stiring, otherwise what may well happen is the corn starch will fall to the bottom of the pan and then start to cook before the res of it does - that will get you lumps again! I can feel it now on the whiskthere, I can feel it getting slightly thicker. If it was green you'd think it was slime right? Well that is our powdered custard.

Phil - The powdered custard has a lot more yellowy colour and thicker texture.

Tristan - Yeah I think the colours are a little bit lighter. That's really dependent on the type of egg yolks used that you use as well. So if you buy the bright yellow egg yolks, that will change the colour but the consistency is something else. I mean an egg custard is a real occasion. It's expensive compared to Bird's Custard it really is, but it's really delicious. It's a bit like a Rolls Royce vs. a Ford Cortina. You know when you go egg custard, it's very difficult to go back.

Phil - You've done all the cooking. I guess I'm on washing up duty?

Tristan -Yeah. Now please!


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