If you’ve got a few extra egg yolks left over from a batch of meringue, consider making a custard sauce. Crème Anglaise (French for English cream) is an all-purpose sauce of egg yolks, sugar, and hot milk or cream—often flavored with vanilla—splashed over fresh fruit, pieces of cake, or anything that tickles your fancy. It can also serve as the basis of a dessert on its own in the classic Floating Island, where mounds of poached or baked meringues float on a lake of the sauce.
The thing to keep in mind when making Crème Anglaise is to use a gentle heat so the yolks don’t curdle. When beating egg whites for a meringue, the albumen proteins unwind and interlock to form an air-trapping network of bubbles. Overbeating, however, makes the network so tight that the water and air in the whites get squeezed out causing a mess: dry, grainy whites in a puddle of liquid.
In Crème Anglaise, egg yolks are beaten vigorously with sugar, also unwinding the proteins. Hot milk or cream is whisked in gradually, and the liquid is heated slowly on top of the stove to make a smooth, custardy sauce. In this case, excessive heat (not too much beating) will cause the yolk proteins to rebel and make a fuss by curdling and turning into a sea of protein knots floating in milk.
Just follow the recipe and photographs here and your Crème Anglaise will turn out perfectly.
For a thicker and richer sauce, add two extra egg yolks. Feel free to substitute a tablespoon or so of any liqueur of your choice for the vanilla. And if you want to use a vanilla bean, split it lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the milk, add the pod, and heat slowly to just below the simmer. Remove the pod halves, rinse and dry them, and embed them in a jar of granulated sugar, where they’ll flavor it for many months.
4 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
½ cup sugar
2 cups whole milk or half and half or a combination, heated to almost the boiling point
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whisk the yolks and salt in a heavy medium saucepan until thick and lemon colored.
Gradually add the sugar, say 2 tablespoons at a time, and whisk well.
When all the sugar has been added continue whisking with fervor until the yolks are very thick.
Gradually—just a tablespoon or so at first—whisk in the hot milk. When the eggs are warm, you can add the milk faster. If you add the hot milk too quickly in the beginning you run the risk of cooking and curdling the yolks. Scrape the pan with a heatproof rubber spatula and set over medium-low heat.
Cook, stirring constantly with the spatula, until the sauce reaches a temperature of between 175 and 180 degrees.
When you swipe a finger along the length of the spatula blade, it will leave a clear path.
Pass the Crème Anglaise through a fine strainer. Cover and refrigerate and serve very cold. The sauce will thicken in the cold. The sauce will keep well for 5 to 7 days.
Makes about 2 ½ cups.
Here’s another look at that bowl of fresh raspberries bathed in a splash of the sauce.