Classic English Custard Sauce

Custard being poured over a bowl of berries

The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 6 to 8 servings

In the U.K, a pudding without a custard is unheard of. The two simply cannot exist without each other. Custard is the perfect partner for British puddings and desserts, and custard sauce–as it also is known–is really easy to make. With this recipe in your arsenal, you'll never need to buy jarred custard or a packaged mix again.

Because of their similarity, custard sauce is often confused with pastry cream, also known as crème pâtissière. They're both milk-based and use eggs, but pastry cream is much thicker and is used in making classic pastries, while custard is more of a liquid and can be poured. Pastry cream uses starch as a thickener while custard uses just eggs to achieve its creamy texture.

Use our recipe to make trifles and fruit parfaits, or to pour on top of apple crumble, pumpkin pie, or chocolate cake. Flavor your custard with chocolate, coconut, nuts, spices, or fruits, or make your own dessert using this flavorful, simple recipe.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces (1 cup) heavy cream
  • 5 ounces (2/3 cup) whole milk (or 2%)
  • 2 ounces (1/3 cup) superfine sugar (caster sugar or granulated sugar; divided)
  • 6 large egg yolks (preferably free-range)
  • 1 vanilla bean (split and seeds removed)

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make English custard sauce

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the cream, milk, and 1 teaspoon of the sugar.

    A pot of milk, cream, and sugar

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  3. Bring it to a gentle simmer over medium heat and then turn the heat down to its lowest setting.

    A pot of cream simmering

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  4. In a large heatproof bowl, place the remaining sugar and egg yolks and whip by hand or with an electric mixer until light, creamy, and pale yellow in color.

    A bowl with sugar and egg yolks with a whisk

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  5. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the warmed milk and cream into the egg mixture. Be mindful of not adding too much at a time because it can curdle and rapidly change in consistency from creamy to scrambled eggs.

    A pan of milk being poured into a bowl of egg yolks while whisking

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  6. Strain the custard sauce through a fine sieve.

    Custard being poured into a strainer

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  7. Pour back into the saucepan and add the vanilla bean seeds.

    A pot of custard sauce with vanilla

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  8. Over low heat, stir constantly until the custard starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon. Do not raise the heat because you run the risk of the sauce curdling, and even worse, burning.

    A pot of custard being stirred with a spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

  9. Once thickened, remove from the heat and pass through a sieve again.

    A sieve sitting over a large bowl with custard

    The Spruce Eats / Kristina Vanni

Tips


  • Slowly adding the hot milk to the beaten egg yolks brings them up to temperature slowly and helps prevent curdling—this is called tempering.
  • Don't try to rush the process by increasing the heat or the eggs will likely curdle. Use low heat when cooking the egg and cream mixture and stir constantly. If you use a wooden spoon, you can feel if the egg mixture is starting to stick on bottom better than if you use a metal utensil.
  • If you're not sure when to stop cooking the custard, use a thermometer. It will start to set at 160 F, but the eggs will start to curdle at 176 F.
  • If you're worried about keeping the heat low enough, use a double boiler to cook the custard (i.e. set the saucepan over a larger pan of simmering water). You can also add 2 teaspoons of cornstarch when beating the eggs and sugar together. It will help the custard thicken faster with less risk of curdling.
  • If the eggs do curdle, remove the pan from heat and use an immersion blender to blend the mixture until smooth.

Recipe Variations

Holidays are always a great time to offer special desserts. Using our recipe for basic custard, add other ingredients to vary the flavor. Add the flavoring at the very end of the cooking process, after passing the custard through the sieve:

  • Brandy Custard: Stir in 6 to 8 tablespoons of good-quality brandy. Use this sauce on Christmas pudding but only for the adults. Reserve some without any alcohol for the children.
  • Meyer Lemon Custard: Stir in the juice of 3 Meyer lemons plus 1/2 teaspoon of zest. Mix well and let cool off in the fridge. Serve the custard with chopped caramelized lemons on top and chopped almonds.
  • Strawberry and Honey Custard: Add 2 tablespoons of lavender honey and 1 cup of fresh strawberries. Serve on top of a slice of vanilla or pound cake.
  • Chocolate-Hazelnut Custard: Add 1/2 cup of chocolate-hazelnut spread and mix well. Let cool off and use it to make a trifle with ladyfingers, bananas, and whipped cream.