Homemade Vanilla Custard

Whether you call it pudding or custard, this childhood classic can be enjoyed at any age!

After marrying an Australian, I learned that Aussies and Americans often use different words for the same things.

For example, what we Americans call “pudding,” Aussies call custard. For them, pudding is usually a steamed cake made with fruit.

Though the recipe below is very similar to how I would make an American pudding, I’m calling it custard because we eat it the way my husband did, as a sauce drizzled over cake.

Unlike the creamy and gelatinous American pudding cups I ate growing up, the custard he had as child was more of a pourable thick vanilla sauce.

In fact, when he was a kid his favorite afterschool snack was store-bought custard served cold over his mom’s chocolate cake. How delicious does that sound? 

How To Make Vanilla Custard

To make this simple dessert, start by whisking together 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 1-3 tablespoons sugar, and an egg in a small saucepan.

If using a liquid sweetener like maple syrup or honey, add later it with the vanilla.

Cornstarch is used as an extra thickener in addition to the egg. It will make the custard set up more firmly after chilling similar to American pudding.

For a thinner sauce consistency, the amount of cornstarch can be reduced or eliminated.

Place the pan over low heat on the stove, and whisk continuously until it starts to simmer and thicken. You will know it is the right consistency when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Then add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of butter. Adding butter at the end of cooking makes the sauce glossy and shiny.

Allow the custard to cool at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. I like to give it a quick whisk every 15 minutes or so to prevent a skin from forming.

Then cover and keep chilled in the fridge for several days. That’s it!

How to adjust sweetness in desserts

When it comes to desserts, I prefer to keep added sugars to a minimum so that the other ingredients can shine through.

Luckily, my family hasn’t complained something isn’t sweet enough and have always been happy with whatever I make.

However, I know most Americans are used to sweeter foods. Therefore, when I write a recipe I try to list the sugar amounts as a range.

For example, I’ll put “1 to 3 tablespoons” or “1/2 to 1 cup sugar.” This way you can adjust to your preference.

In this custard, I only use 1 tablespoon of sugar because I serve it with something sweet like cake. Feel free to use the higher amount listed, especially if you plan to eat the custard alone.

Also, try different sweeteners like brown or coconut sugar, honey, or maple syrup for a unique flavor.

How to Serve Custard

While it can be served warm, cold custard is our family’s preference since it has a more pronounced vanilla flavor. Think of vanilla ice cream which is essentially a frozen custard.

It also becomes thicker when it’s chilled. If you want it pourable, add more milk (and maybe extra sugar) to thin it out. Or leave out the cornstarch.

Then enjoy with your favorite cake, brownies, cobbler, fruit salad, or simply eat it up with a spoon!

 

What My Family Says:
10 year-old: “It’s creamy, sweet, and warm.”
7 year-old: “It’s warm and snuggly.”
Husband: “I like the consistency and flavor, a very distinctive vanilla taste. Though I liked store-bought custard as a kid, it was too sweet.”


Joby's Test Kitchen bowl with vanilla custard.

Homemade Vanilla Custard

Joby’s Test Kitchen
Here is a simple and quick way to make vanilla custard or pudding.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 18 minutes
Total Time 23 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cup

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup (240) milk
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 tbsp (8g) cornstarch, optional (reduce amount or leave out for thinner consistency)
  • 1-3 tbsps (15-45g) maple syrup, honey, or sugar
  • 1 tsp butter, optional
  • ½ tsp vanilla

Instructions
 

  • In a small saucepan, mix together milk, egg, cornstarch (if using), and sugar until fully incorporated. If using maple syrup or honey, add later with the vanilla.
  • Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring continuously. This may take 10-15 minutes. Once it starts to simmer, lower the heat and continue cooking and stirring another 2-3 minutes until it thickens. Take off heat and stir in the vanilla and butter (if using).
  • Let custard cool at room temperature for 30-60 minutes, giving it a whisk every 10-15 minutes so a skin doesn’t form on top. Then cover and keep chilled in the fridge for 2-4 days.
  • Serve the custard cold. For a warm pourable custard, gently reheat on the stove or in the microwave.

Notes

Chocolate Custard: Add 1-2 tablespoons chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate to the custard after it has thickened. Stir until the chocolate is almost melted, and then take off heat. Continue stirring until the chocolate is fully melted.
Dairy-Free Custard: Replace regular milk with coconut or almond milk and leave out the butter.
Spiked Custard: For an alcoholic version, my husband recommends adding “cognac or bourbon.”
Vegan Custard: Replace milk with coconut or almond milk and leave out the egg and butter. Increase cornstarch to 12g or 1½ tablespoons.
Keyword custard, pudding, vanilla

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