Boiled custard is one of my great childhood Christmas memories. We spent a lot of Christmases at my grandparents house in Columbia, Tennessee and my grandmother always served boiled custard in Santa Claus mugs and caramel cake for dessert at Christmas lunch. Boiled Custard was something you bought. I never really thought of it as something people make. I assumed it was some mystery product that only the professional dairies could ever produce. Over time, our Christmas traditions changed and some of our gathering don’t have that nostalgic love of boiled custard, but my mom always buys a little carton, even if only a few of us drink it. But I have over the years gotten more and more interested in making things from scratch, and low and behold, I discovered that lots of Southern cookbooks have recipes for boiled custard. I am now pretty sure there are some people who think bought boiled custard is an absolute sacrilege. So, feeling nostalgic, I set out to create a fresh family recipe for an old-time favorite. And it is delicious.
After my Grandmother died, my cousin claimed the old Santa mugs. They were so chipped and cracked no one thought they could possibly be useful and every offer to buy her a new set was refused. I totally understand that. Those mugs filled with boiled custard are a part of Christmas. But I bought my own Santa mug, similar to the old ones, just for me, just for boiled custard.
Southern Boiled Custard
This is a rich drink so small servings will do. If you want to make more, I recommend making it in several batches. It is very difficult to create a larger double boiler and more liquid takes longer to cook and is likely to produce lumps.
1 quart whole milk
½ of a vanilla bean
1 cup sugar
½ cup heavy cream (If needed)
Set up a double boiler and bring the water in the bottom pot just to a low boil. If you do not have a double boiler, place a metal or glass bowl over a saucepan. The bowl should not touch the bottom of the pan or the water in it and must fit securely so steam does not escape.
Pour the milk into the top of the double boiler, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the milk. Heat the milk until it is hot to the touch and just bubbling. Do not boil.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add the sugar and beat until light and the sugar has dissolved. Slowly add ½ cup of the hot milk into the eggs and beat thoroughly. Repeat with another ½ cup milk. Pour the egg mixture into the milk in the pan and whisk to combine. Continue whisking as the milk cooks. Cook until the custard lightly coats the back of a metal spoon, and when you run your finger through the custard on the spoon it leaves a gap.
While the custard is cooking, wash and dry the bowl and place a wire mesh sieve over it. When the custard is ready, pour it immediately through the sieve. Leave it to cool for a few minutes, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard. This will present a skin from forming. Refrigerate the custard until cold, then pour into a pitcher. If the custard is too thick, whisk in about ½ cup heavy cream.
Serves 6 small glasses