My elderly great-aunt in West Tennessee made the best “drinking custard” I have ever tasted. Also known as “boiled custard,” it’s not very sweet or thick; it was a thin custard served in small glasses and drunk with great gusto at holiday parties, where a huge kettle of it would be kept warm on the front of the stove. I remember getting a glassful right before bed, when we children were already in our pajamas, and it was such an exciting special treat that our little hands practically trembled as we clutched the glasses. My great-aunt cooked and stirred her custard until it coated the back of a sterling silver spoon and ran off in a sheet, rather than running off in streams, and that’s still the best measure of its doneness that I’ve found. Taste while it’s cooking and add a little more sugar if it’s not sweet enough for you. Boiled custard can be served warm or cold; I like it both ways. When we were kids, our mom always let us stir a little extra vanilla into each serving.
- Yield: 8 Servings (1½ quarts)
- 1½ quarts (6 cups) whole milk
- 8 egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Put the milk in a large pot over medium heat and begin to heat it, stirring occasionally, until a few bubbles appear around the edges (don’t let it boil). Set a large saucepan of water to heat to a simmer.
- While the milk heats, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a large, heatproof bowl. Ladle a cupful of the hot milk into the bowl, whisking continuously, then slowly ladle in the rest, continuing to whisk. Set the bowl on top of the large saucepan of simmering water.
- Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard starts to thicken, 6 to 8 minutes. It should remain at a low simmer, with only a few bubbles rising. When the mixture starts to thicken (or when it coats the back of a metal spoon—it needn’t be silver!), remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve the custard warm, at room temperature, or chilled.