Whisking a Vanilla Custard Sauce

Times Staff Writer

Basic vanilla custard sauce is a mixture of eggs, sugar, milk, salt and flavoring cooked in a double boiler until thickened but still pourable. It’s also referred to as stirred custard, boiled custard, soft custard, light custard or creme anglaise.

This type of custard must be cooked slowly over simmering water, stirring constantly. Don’t try to hurry the cooking by raising the temperature--intense heat will cause the eggs to curdle. Prepared properly, however, the result is a creamy sauce, slightly thickened by the eggs.

The water in the double boiler should be kept just simmering and should not touch the bottom of the insert. Using a wire whisk, blend the egg yolks well in the top portion of the pan, then whisk in the sugar (Step 1).

Stir in the milk (Step 2) and add a dash of salt, then cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, until the custard reaches 185 degrees or coats the back of a metal or wooden spoon. A finger drawn across the back of the spoon should leave a clean path (Step 3), and the sauce’s consistency should be smooth and creamy.


Remove the custard from the heat and stir in the vanilla (Step 4). Continue to stir the mixture periodically as it cools to release steam and prevent the moisture from condensing and making the custard watery. Cover the sauce and refrigerate until chilled.

Should the custard begin to curdle during cooking, it’s sometimes possible to repair it by quickly placing the pan in a bowl of ice water and whisking the mixture until it is again smooth. It may also be placed in a blender and processed at high speed until cooled.

Stirred custard is used as the sauce for the Mixed Fruit in Lace Cookie Shells With Custard Sauce recipe mentioned in today’s Food Section Page 1 story but may also be poured over fresh fruit (Step 5), cakes or puddings. It also is used as a pastry filling and as the base for desserts such as English trifle, Italian zabaglione and French floating island.



2 eggs

1/4 cup sugar

2 cups nonfat milk

Dash salt


1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat eggs and sugar in top of double boiler until light. Stir in milk and salt. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly, until custard coats spoon. Remove from water and stir in vanilla. Chill. Makes about 2 cups sauce.

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