Recipe: Petits Pots de Crème à la Vanille…vanilla custard

Simple, yet delicious

Since I made a smarty-pants comment about “vanilla” in another context, I am doing penance by offering up this treasured recipe.  In truth, vanilla is a flavour like no other.  Capable of both savoury and sweet notes, and altogether aromatic.

Sometimes you carry a recipe with you for so long, you can’t remember where it came from in the first place. This is one such recipe. I have used it so often, adapting it each time in small ways, and now it feels familiar, like a comfy pair of slippers.

Making these little custards with milk makes them light.

  • 750 ml whole milk
  • 2 plump moist vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 8 large egg yolks
  • 150 g sugar
  • boiling water

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Cut three slits in a piece of waxed paper,and line a baking pan large enough to hold the ramekins.  Place the ramekins in the pan, on the paper, and set aside.  In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and vanilla beans over high heat.  Bring to a boil and remove from the heat.  Cover and set aside for thirty minutes.  

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar, until thick and lemon-coloured.  Set aside.  Bring the vanilla-infused milk back to a boil, and very gradually add to the yolk mixture in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth.  Let stand for two or three minutes, and then clear off any foam that has risen to the top.  Pour evenly into ramekins.  

Pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach about halfway up the side of the ramekins.  Cover the pan loosely with aluminium foil, to prevent a skin from forming on the custards.  

Place in the centre of the oven, and bake until the custard is just set at the edges but still trembling in the centre, 30 to 35 minutes.  

Remove the pan from the oven and carefully remove the ramekins from the water.  Refrigerate, loosely covered, for up to 24 hours, but at least two.  Serve well-chilled.  Serves eight.

Flavour Adaptations

Whilst I prefer the simplicity of vanilla, they are the ideal platform for flavour infusions—lavender, orange blossom, rose, lemon oil—in all cases you would swap this for the vanilla. Whatever your imagination or taste dictates. To do this, treat the milk as if you were making tea, and place the desired flavouring in a muslin–a loose ball of lavender for example, and infuse, covered, for the 30-minute cool down. Rosemary, lemon verbena, sage, saffron and honey…let it go.

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