Module Three: Cream and Custard

Kira bakes gluten free module three, cream and custard title

Theory

Two of the most widely used ingredients in the pastry world, milk and eggs. When combined with sugar, these humble ingredients are transformed into a silky-smooth custard that is used not only as a dessert accompaniment, think warm crème anglaise (vanilla sauce) poured over a slice of chocolate cake, but it is also the base for so many of the desserts we know and love. Such as ice cream and crème brûlée.

When I was building out the schedule for the Kira Bakes Gluten Free Pastry School, I knew that custards and creams HAD to be one of the first things we tackled. Purely because it is the base for so many desserts and I wanted to have some amazing recipes that we will later use when making our gluten free pies, tarts, and cakes, in subsequent modules.

So, once you understand the basics of making custard, you can use it to create ice cream, mousses, tart fillings, set creams, curds and so much more.  Get ready! Because we are going to dive deep into the sweet world of creams and custards!

First Things First. What is Custard?

The definition of a custard is a heat-thickened liquid set by the coagulation of egg proteins. I know this doesn’t sound sexy, but in reality it is indulgent, silky and elegant.

The Base Custards

Crème Anglaise (Vanilla Sauce)

Crème Anglaise, also known as vanilla sauce, can be used as a dessert accompaniment or as the base for ice cream. The sauce comes together by gently heating milk or cream with sugar and egg yolks. Because crème anglaise uses the eggs as a thickener, the mixture can never be boiled, otherwise the eggs will scramble. 

Note: Crème anglaise should always be cooked to a temperature of 80C/175F to ensure it is fully cooked and achieves a smooth, creamy texture that coats the back of a spoon.

Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)

Crème Pâtissière, also known as pastry cream, is used as a filling for many desserts and pastries. Crème pâtissière comes together by pouring (tempering) hot milk over egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Then, while whisking constantly, bringing the mixture to a simmer. Once it reaches the desired consistency it is left to cool down and can be used in various desserts.

Types of Custards

infographic showing three types of custard. baked, stirred and boiled

Baked Custard: Milk, eggs and sugar that have been blended together which are then baked in a hot water bath until set.

Example: Crème Brulee 

Stirred Custards: Milk, eggs and sugar are gently stirred over a low, direct heat. Generally, stirred custards do not contain any starch (they use the eggs as a thickener), the custard CANNOT be boiled. If it does reach a boiling point, you will have sweet, scrambled eggs. 

Example: Crème Anglaise

Boiled Custards: Milk, eggs, sugar and starch are cooked over a direct heat source and need to be whisked constantly until it reaches a full boil. 

Example: Pudding

Infographic showing cornstarch use in pastry cream and custard

Note: cornstarch allows us to heat the crème patisserie above 78C (when eggs would start to scramble) because it protects the egg proteins. The starch granules swell at the same temperature that the egg proteins are beginning to coagulate.

What is Tempering?

Tempering is a technique often used in professional kitchens when making custards, desserts and other sauces, (not to be confused with tempering chocolate). Essentially it is the process of gradually raising the temperature of a mixture containing eggs to reduce the risk of them curdling or turning to scrambled eggs.

The process for tempering custard involves heating liquid, such as milk or fruit juice in a saucepan until it is steaming, but not boiling. With the eggs and sugar in a separate bowl, you gradually pour in a small amount of the hot liquid into the egg mixture while continuously whisking. The gradual addition of the hot liquid raises the temperature of the eggs, preventing them from curdling. The mixture is then placed back on the stovetop where you would continue to cook the custard until it reaches napper consistency.

Creams and Dairy

Using cream as the base for desserts helps to create a light, and creamy blank canvas that is the perfect background for any flavours you want to highlight. Such as fruit purees, chocolate and spices.

Crème Chantilly (Sweetened Whipped Cream)

Crème Chantilly is simply a fancy name for whipped cream that has been sweetened with sugar. The secret to making Crème Chantilly is to use a cold bowl and whisk. Also make sure to use a cream that has a minimum fat content of 35%, otherwise it won’t whip up. Don’t forget to add a little vanilla for flavour. 

Diplomat Crème

Diplomat Crème is a crème patisserie that has been lightened with whipped cream. It comes together by folding 1/3 whipped cream with 2/3 crème patisserie. This is perfect for filling pâte à choux (cream puffs) or no-bake tarts.

Mousse

Mousse is s a light, aerated whipped cream or meringue that is folded into a fruit puree, custard or chocolate base. Gelatine is often used to help stabilize the mousse and hold its shape.

Breakdown of Dairy Percentages

  • Skim Milk (US/UK): Less than 0.5%
  • Low Fat Milk (US/UK): 0.5-2%
  • Homogenized (whole) Milk (US/UK): 3.25%
  • Single Cream (UK ONLY): 12-18%
  • Light Cream/Table Cream (US/UK): 18-30%
  • Light Whipping Cream (US/UK): 30-36%
  • Heavy Cream/Whipping Cream (US/UK): 36%
  • Double Cream (UK ONLY): 48%
  • Clotted Cream (UK ONLY): 55%

Eggs

Egg Sizes by Weight

Eggs differ in size and weight depending on what country you are baking in. For accuracy, see the table below to ensure you are using the right eggs in your recipe.

  • US Small 43-49g
  • US Medium 50-57g
  • US Large 57-64g 
  • US X-Large 64-71g
  • UK Small 53g
  • UK Medium 53-63g
  • UK Large 63-73g
  • UK X-Large 73+
Infographic comparing us eggs and uk eggs by size

Weight and Percentage of Egg Yolk and White (1 Large US Egg)

In one large US egg that weighs approximately 57g, the egg yolk is roughly 34% of the total eggs weight (without the shell). The egg white accounts for roughly 66%. That means the yolk will weigh 17-18g and the white will weigh 31-33g.

Note that if a recipe is written in North America and does not specify the egg size, you can assume the recipe requires large US egg (57g) size.

What is Lecithin?

Lecithin is the emulsifying protein found in egg yolks.

Why are eggs needed to make custard?

Eggs help to bind and emulsify the liquid, creating the smooth, yet set texture needed to achieve a custard or curd.

Gelatine

What is Gelatine?  

Gelatine is a gelling agent made from a natural protein that is derived from animal collagen, usually beef or pork. Gelatine must be rehydrated or ‘Bloomed’ before using. I prefer gelatine leaves over powder as leaves are better at obtaining a clear, tasteless finish.  

Note: gelatine cannot set raw pineapple, papaya or kiwi because of their bromelain content

Infographic indicating gelatine use with fruit

Gelatin Leaf (gelatine sheet)

Gelatin leaf is a thin flat sheet of dried gelatine. It is often used as a setting agent for many desserts such as mousses, custards and creams. 

Note that there are four grades of gelatin leaf. Platinum, gold, silver and bronze. The grades determine the weight and strength in the gelatin sheets. Platinum is the strongest grade, with bronze being the weakest.

Steps for preparing (blooming) gelatin leaf:

  1. Soak the gelatin leaves in very cold water. This is called “Blooming” the gelatin. This process only takes a minute or two. If you leave it soaking any longer the gelatine will start to dissolve into the water.
  2. Using your hand, squeeze out any excess water. If you are adding the bloomed gelatin to a mixture that is already warm you can simply add it in and stir. Otherwise, you can dissolve the gelatin over a Baine Marie or in a portion of hot/warm liquid within the recipe.
  3. Boiling gelatin will cause it to break down and will no longer work as setting agent.

Note: 1 Bronze Gelatin Sheet (2 grams) of gelatine will firmly set approx. 120ml of liquid or softly set 180ml of liquid.

Granulated Gelatin (Powdered Gelatin)

Granulated gelatine, or powdered gelatin, can be use instead of gelatin leaf but it will produce a slightly murky appearance if using it with clear liquids.

Steps for preparing (blooming) granulated gelatin:

  1. Sprinkle the granulated gelatin over cold water, stir and allow to set for 5 minutes. The ratio for granulated gelatin to water (or whatever liquid you are using in your recipe) is approx. 1 part powder to 5 parts water. 
  2. If you are adding the bloomed gelatin to a mixture that is already warm you can simply add it in and stir. Otherwise, you can dissolve the gelatine over a Baine Marie or in a portion of hot/warm liquid within the recipe.
  3. Boiling gelatin will cause it to break down and will no longer work as setting agent.

1 gram of granulated gelatin will firmly set approx. 70ml of liquid, or softly set 100ml of liquid.

Vegetarian substitute for gelatin

Agar-agar can be used as a replacement for gelatine in most recipes.

Below you will find links to the Cream and Custard Recipes that use several of the discussed baking principals and methods.  The best way to learn is by getting yourself in the kitchen and to start getting some hands on experience. 

I’ve ranked the below recipes from least to most challenging. If you are feeling intimidated or just want a recipe that will give you the confidence boost your looking for then start at 1 and work your way down the list. 

Cream and custard recipes:

  1. Crème Pâtissière
  2. Crème Anglaise
  3. Lemon Curd 
  4. Chocolate Mousse


2 thoughts on “Module Three: Cream and Custard”

  • So interesting how egg sizes are different weights in each country! Also, i’ve always used gelatin powder, but I see them use gelatin sheets on GBBO. I was always curious what they were doing… now I know! Fun to learn these differences

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