Vanilla Custard


Custard is one of those desserts that I forget about. It is sublime in its simplicity – milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. We didn’t have custard that often when I was growing up, but I always loved it. My mom and grandma made custard pretty much the same way – not too sweet, not too rich and always topped with ground nutmeg before they baked it. That is what custard is to me – plain, simple and delicious.

I decided to try making custard last week during our Colorado vacation. It was a rainy afternoon and we had all the ingredients on hand. I didn’t have my recipe with me, so I trolled the internet until I looked at enough recipes to decide on a ratio of eggs to milk to sugar. In my in-laws’ less-than-stocked kitchen I had to improvise for both custard cups and a water bath. Coffee cups stood in for ramekins, with the overflow going into a serving bowl that was oven safe. The custards baked up just fine, despite the high altitude and the less-than ideal baking vessels.


Rich’s parents and I were happy, though they didn’t have any nutmeg, so I had to make do with cinnamon. Rich has never liked custard that much – he prefers his desserts to have more substance, and more chocolate. Calvin wasn’t impressed either. They are both requesting chocolate almond custard. I expect you will be seeing a recipe for that sometime soon.

I made another batch of custard once we got home to make sure I could replicate the results. I can’t say that it was really much better than the improvised custard we had on vacation. But I got to use ground nutmeg on top. It brought back a true taste of childhood. Rich and Calvin still aren’t fans, but that leaves more for me.

Download or print recipe here.

Vanilla Custard
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4-6 servings

Use any kind of milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer the custard. This is not a sweet dessert. You can increase the sugar to ½ cup if you like, with no other changes to the recipe. Or sprinkle sugar on top when serving for added sweetness and crunch.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
dash salt
nutmeg or cinnamon
sugar, for serving (optional)

Custard cups or ramekins
9 by 13 inch baking pan, or equivalent
boiling water for a water bath

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot or teakettle of water to a boil and keep hot. Lightly grease 4-6 custard cups or small ramekins. I used 6 ounce custard cups and needed five of them. Set ramekins in a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or other pan large enough to hold them without crowding. Set aside, preferably near the oven.


Heat milk in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Milk will be steaming and there will be bubbles all around the edges when it is hot enough. Don’t let it boil. Stir occasionally at the beginning and more often as it gets hotter. It should take 5-7 minutes to get hot enough, depending on your stove and the size of your pan. The larger the pan, the faster the milk will heat (and the closer you need to watch it).

While milk heats, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl until sugar is no longer gritty.

When milk is hot, beat it gradually into the egg mixture. Start very slowly so you don’t scramble the eggs. When all the milk is mixed in, pour the custard into the prepared ramekins, filling them almost full. Sprinkle tops with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Set ramekins, in the larger baking pan, as near to the oven as possible. Pour boiling water into the larger pan, trying to get the water to the same level as the custard in the cups. Carefully transfer the filled pan to the oven.

Bake custard 25-30 minutes, or until the centers barely jiggle when you move the pan. Remove the pan from the oven. Remove ramekins from the hot water and place on a rack to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Let custards come to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for two or three days, covered.