There’s an amazingly complex web of dishes derived from & pertaining to this delicious cream known in so many different parts of the world…but I need to remind you all that just like Shakespeare’s words – “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” – custard called any other way would still delight our taste buds with the same comfort & glee we can all relate to.
So, let’s start by defining the actual word ‘custard’. I grew up calling it poleada, others might know it better as pastry cream or crème pâtissière, or simply by custard, or natillas…there’s a long, long list of dishes that could lead back to it, only confusing us even more! However, we’ll avoid headaches & confusion by simply defining it as a custard: a culinary preparation based on a cooked mixture of milk & egg yolk. Of course, depending on how much egg or thickener is used, custards may vary in consistency from a thin pouring sauce (crème anglaise) to a thick pastry cream (crème pâtissière), what we recognize best as the oozy yummy filling in éclairs.
Mixtures of milk & eggs thickened by heat have long been part of European cuisine.; custard tarts were big in the Middle Ages & continue to be very popular today. Trying to keep it simple, the word ‘custard’ refers to a wide variety of thickened dishes…but when starch is added, the result is narrowed down to pastry cream (crème pâtissière) or confectioners’ custard, a key ingredient in many French desserts – like Napoleons and filled tarts, and also popular in Italian pastry & more commonly known as the cream in the famous Boston Cream Pie. Adding softened butter produces the renown Bavarian cream: German buttercream or crème mousseline – oh, Germans & their butter…
Enjoyed however & whenever you prefer, this crème pâtissière, or poleada, is a delicious comfort food many of us are familiar with. In Honduras, it’s one of those unique snacks many will associate with childhood. A staple of my great-grandmother’s kitchen, it only takes the first spoonful to take me back to a place I will forever cherish…don’t we all love that beautiful feeling?!
For the Custard
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 4 tablespoons of cornstarch
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 cups of milk
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Beat the sugar, cornstarch, and egg yolks in a medium bowl on high speed until thick and pale yellow, for about 2 minutes. Add the milk & vanilla to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Gradually pour about 1/3 of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking rigorously to combine. Scrape the egg mixture back into the pan and cook over low to medium heat, whisking constantly and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan to prevent scorching – I use a spiral beverage whisk to make sure nothing gets clumped up! Whisk until the custard is thickened and beginning to bubble. Then continue to cook, whisking, for about 50 seconds. Using a clean spatula, scrape the custard into a clean bowl.
To serve warm, simple sprinkle with cinnamon, and enjoy! If not serving immediately, cover the surface of the custard with a piece of wax or parchment paper to prevent a skin from forming. Let cool, then refrigerate before using. This keeps, refrigerated, for up to 2 days.