Crème anglaise is a rich, creamy custard sauce that is made from milk, sugar, and egg yolks, so it's actually a gluten-free dessert sauce! Pour it over summer berries or serve it with your favourite dessert.
What's it used for
Crème anglaise is actually the cooked custard base you use to make ice cream. You combine crème anglaise with whipping cream before churning it to make the best ice cream.
Crème anglaise is a sauce that is served over soufflés or steamed puddings (like these marmalade pudding cakes). You can also serve it with bread pudding (like this raspberry bread pudding is served with a coffee-flavoured crème anglaise). It's perfect for pouring over berries or slices of warm milk sponge cake.
Crème anglaise is also the base for eggnog. To make eggnog, you incorporate freshly grated nutmeg and spike it with rum or brandy.
What's in it and what isn't
Crème anglaise is made from a simple list of ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen. That's the beauty of it. All you need are egg yolks, sugar, milk, and a little vanilla.
The source of vanilla is up to you (either vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, or vanilla beans). Just remember that when you cook or bake with vanilla, depending on which product you use, you will add it at different stages: vanilla beans are added before the sauce is cooked, while vanilla bean paste or extra are added after the sauce is off the heat.
It's a common misconception that crème anglaise includes cream (especially heavy cream or whipping cream). Actually it doesn't contain cream! It also doesn't call for any starches or flour thickeners, which is how it differs from pastry cream.
This custard sauce gets its rich, creamy texture from milk that is heated with egg yolks to thicken it. The thickness comes from slow evaporation of the mixture on the stove. It takes about 10 minutes or more to achieve the right texture, without having to resort to any thickeners or cream.
You will see recipes made with cream, but technically, a real crème anglaise is made with milk only (either 2 % fat or even 3.25 % whole milk).
Crème anglaise is not made with flour or cornstarch. Either of these are used for thicker pastry fillings like pastry cream.
What to do with leftover egg whites
There's no avoiding leftover egg whites when you make a crème anglaise. Use leftover egg whites to make meringues, Italian meringue buttercream, vanilla marshmallows, macaroons, or chocolate pavlovas. You can use the egg whites to make royal icing to decorate a batch of sugar cookies. You can also freeze the leftover egg whites to use later.
In the recipe below, you can reduce the sugar if you will be serving this as a sauce for a dessert that is already sweet enough. However, if you are making a crème anglaise to churn into ice cream, the sugar is important to improve the texture and stability of the frozen dessert, so be aware of that!
Frequently asked questions
Crème anglaise, when hot, is quite thin and fluid. Typically, you don't use thickeners to make it thicker. Slow heating is what makes this pouring custard thicker, as does chilling, actually. If you compare a warm custard sauce to a properly chilled custard sauce, you can really see the difference in texture. It should have the consistency of whipping cream (un-whipped).
Yes, but just a day or two ahead of when you use it. In fact, I encourage you to make crème anglaise the day before you want to serve it because letting it chill overnight in the fridge transforms it into a thick, unctuous pouring custard that is perfect for serving with slices of cake and fresh berries.
In pastry school, we were taught that crème anglaise should be stored for only a few days before throwing it out and making a fresh batch.
At home, I tend to store it for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Make sure that when you make it, you chill it down quickly over an ice bath to stop the cooking and to help preserve it longer. While crème anglaise is not boiled quickly, it is cooked slowly over low heat for a long period of time, which is what allows you to store this cooked custard for a few days.
No and yes. Custards and custard sauces aren't great for freezing solid to be defrosted later, especially if they don't have starches or stabilizers. They can break down and the texture may be off when the frozen custard is defrosted. This is an important lesson they teach you in pastry school. That being said, ice cream is a frozen crème anglaise: it's churned with air to freeze it quickly in a light, more stable form. But even ice cream can't be stored forever in the freezer.
I love to serve fresh summer berries with crème anglaise drizzled on top. It's such a simple dessert but so elegant and so yummy! It's also great for serving with bread pudding as a sauce or to jazz up simple one layer cakes. Crème anglaise is a dessert sauce so basically you can pour it on your fave dessert that you think would go well with custard. You could also serve it with pie instead of ice cream or serve it with waffles (like these cranberry waffles served with eggnog crème anglaise!).
Vanilla bean crème anglaise
- Set a medium metal bowl in a large bowl of ice water and have a fine sieve at the ready.
- Combine the milk and half the sugar in a 3-quart saucepan. Set the pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to encourage the sugar to dissolve. Heat the mixture through but do not allow it to boil (this is key to avoid making scrambled eggs!). Remove from the heat.
- Put the egg yolks and salt in a small heatproof bowl and gently whisk to break up the yolks. Whisk in the remaining half of sugar and beat the mixture until the yolks become very pale and light. Gradually whisk in the warm sweet milk mixture. Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan, and whisk to combine.
- Cook over medium-low heat (slow and steady), stirring constantly with a clean wooden spoon until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon and hold a line drawn through it with a finger, about 10 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should register around 85 ºC (185°F). Do not let the sauce overheat or boil because then you will probably curdle the mixture, making scrambled eggs. Immediately strain the sauce through the sieve into the bowl set in the ice-water bath.
- Gently whisk in the vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract). Stir the custard occasionally until cool, about 10 minutes. Transfer it to a large container. Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour, until the custard sauce is velvety and thick.
- Serve over summer berries, slices of cake, or you can add cream and churn it to make your vanilla bean ice cream.