If you can’t remember or don’t know what a crème anglaise (English cream) is, let me give you a hint. It’s more like a sauce. Wait, what?! Sorry, I didn’t mean to confuse you more! It is a cream, but it’s actually pourable, like a sauce. You might know it as vanilla custard sauce.
I have to admit I had heard of this cream but it had never really caught my attention before. But my mother one day started reminiscing about an apple strudel she had tasted in a restaurant. The strudel was topped with crème anglaise and she still remembered how good it was, years later.
So I just had to try it, and let me tell you. If you haven’t tasted it yet, you are missing out. It is such an incredibly versatile cream that can be used as is, to add even more flavor to your pies and cakes. Or as a base for other desserts as we will see when doing the crème anglaise baking calendar this month.
What Is Crème Anglaise?
Crème anglaise is a type of custard that is heated on the stovetop, as opposed to the oven. It belongs to the family of cooked-stirred custards, and consists of a mixture of egg yolks, sugar and milk/cream that are gently heated with constant stirring.
What Is The Difference Between Crème Anglaise And Pastry Cream?
If you missed the post on pastry cream, you might be wondering if pastry cream is the same as crème anglaise.
Pastry cream is also a cooked-stirred custard and the process of making it is quite similar to the one we will discuss in this post for the crème anglaise. But there are two main differences between the two: the composition and the texture.
If you recall from the pastry cream post, in addition to the basic ingredients used for the crème anglaise, pastry cream also contains butter and a thickener (cornstarch or flour). Butter will add richness to the cream. And using starch will make a difference when it comes to the final temperature of the cooked custard.
While pastry cream is cooked to a high temperature (about 93°C/200°F), the temperature of crème anglaise should not exceed 85°C (185°F). The starch protects the eggs from curdling which is what makes higher temperatures possible, and desirable for pastry cream.
If you’ve had crème anglaise before, you will have noticed that it is really like a sauce that you drizzle over your desserts. Pastry cream on the other hand, is thick (from the added starch).
What Is Crème Anglaise Used For?
I initially thought crème anglaise could only be used as a sauce to top fruits or other desserts such as chocolate cakes and pies. But I was very pleasantly surprised when I discovered that knowing how to make crème anglaise is actually a skill you can use to prepare numerous desserts.
Did you know that crème anglaise could be used as a base for ice cream? Or to make a chocolate mousse when you’d rather not use raw eggs. It’s also the base for crème brulée! But I’m getting ahead of myself, we will discover all this together in the next few weeks with our baking calendar.
Key Temperatures For Crème Anglaise
Since crème anglaise contains eggs, it is important to cook it to a certain temperature. You should make sure you reach at least 74°C (165°F) to destroy a harmful enzyme (alpha-amylase) that is present in the eggs. For the perfect texture- creamy, smooth and slightly thick- aim for a temperature of about 82°C (180°F). Beyond 85°C (185°F), the eggs will curdle and you will end up with a lumpy cream.
Crème Anglaise Ingredients
As mentioned previously, the basic ingredients of a crème anglaise are egg yolks, sugar and milk. But let’s go through all the ingredients to get a clearer picture of the composition of a crème anglaise.
- The liquid: Milk can be used on its own. But to make the cream even richer, it is possible to substitute part of the milk, usually half, with heavy cream.
- Sugar: The sugar will obviously add sweetness. If you are planning on using crème anglaise as a sauce, the amount of sugar typically added is about 20% of the weight of the liquid. If you are using it as a base however, the amount of sugar might need some adjustment.
- Egg yolks: The fat from the egg yolks will add richness and the more yolks used, the richer the cream will be. The yolks will also add color and will thicken the cream when cooked. The amount of egg yolks in a crème anglaise is usually about 20% of the liquid weight but can range anywhere between 15-35%.
- Flavoring: The most common flavoring used is probably vanilla. But you don’t need to stop there. You could add coffee, spices (such as aniseed, cardamom), herbs, tea.
Flavoring Crème Anglaise
You might be wondering when to add the flavoring so let’s talk about that a little.
If you are using a vanilla bean or other spices, herbs, tea, coffee, you could simmer them with the milk/cream. Then turn off the heat and let it steep, covered, for about 15 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how intense you’d like the flavor to be.
You could also add the flavorings to the cold milk/cream the night before and keep everything covered and refrigerated until use. Then simply proceed with the recipe and strain the cream. You might need to add a little bit of milk (not cream) if too much water is absorbed by whatever you chose to infuse.
Stirring flavorings into cooked cream
For a chocolate flavor, the best time to add the chopped chocolate is when the cream has cooked and is still warm. The chocolate will easily melt. The same applies if you wish to use nut pastes (pistachios, hazelnuts etc.). If you are planning on using extracts or alcohol, wait for the cream to cool down a little before adding them. If not, some of the flavor will be lost due to evaporation and you might end up with a bland cream.
Heating The Crème Anglaise
Gisslen1 suggests using a double-boiler to heat the crème anglaise rather than exposing the cream to direct heat. I personally haven’t tried this but if your cream tends to curdle, you could give this method a go. In the following tutorial, we will be making the cream over direct heat.
Making The Crème Anglaise
Making crème Anglaise is a very quick process. And once you know what to look out for, you’ll see that it is also actually very easy to make. So let’s break down all the steps and take a look at what to expect during the key points of the process.
Heating the liquids
- Prepare a small bowl with a fine strainer on top. This step is very important for two reasons: you should immediately transfer the cooked cream to another container so that the heat of the pan doesn’t keep cooking it. And secondly, the strainer will get rid of any small lumps if you overheated the cream a little (and of any large pieces of flavorings used).
- If using a vanilla bean, cut it lengthwise and scrape the seeds. Put the bean and the pods in a small pot. I haven’t been able to find reasonably priced vanilla beans so I just use vanilla extract which I add to the cooked cream.
- Add the milk, heavy cream and part of the sugar (about 1/3) and heat on medium-low heat (5 out of 9 for example) until you see some steam. Don’t boil the mixture. The sugar is added to prevent the milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Whisking the egg yolks and sugar
- In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a small bowl. Some recipes say you should lighten the mixture, while others just call for a homogeneous mixture. I’m going with the latter because it’s easier to achieve if you don’t have much arm strength and it produces a very tasty cream. And it’s also better to avoid incorporating too many air bubbles. So when the sugar looks like it has dissolved in the egg yolks, you can stop whisking.
Tempering the eggs
- Very slowly add part of the hot milk/cream into the egg mixture and whisk constantly. This is called tempering. You are slowly raising the temperature of the eggs before cooking them by adding a warm liquid.
Stirring the crème Anglaise
- Return the mixture to the pot and keep stirring with a rubber spatula on medium-low heat (about 4-5 out of 9 for example). So you might have noticed I switched from a whisk to a spatula. A whisk will incorporate too much air into the cream at this point which you do not want. And a spatula will help you determine when the crème anglaise is ready as explained below. Regarding the way to stir, some French recipes recommend stirring in an 8-shape to make sure you get all the corners of the pot where cream might stick.
Aspect of the cream at this point: If you look at the picture of the cream in the pot (below), you’ll notice some white foam on the surface of the cream. This is a good indication that your cream isn’t yet cooked properly. If you are using a whisk instead of a spatula, the foam will remain because of all the air bubbles incorporated while whisking.
It’s done when:
- The foam will start to subside and the cream will thicken slightly. The cream should coat the spatula and if you run a clean finger through it, your finger trace should remain. If you are using a digital thermometer, the temperature of the cream should be about 82°C (180°F). Make sure it does not exceed 85°C (185°F).
Strain and store the cream
- Remove from the heat and quickly strain the cream into the prepared bowl to stop the cooking process quickly and get rid of any lumps. If you decide to make a very large batch, you will need to cool it down by placing the bowl in ice water.
- Stir in the vanilla extract if using.
- Cover by touching the surface of the cream with a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
Let’s talk about some issues you might encounter so you know what to expect and how to deal with it.
Lumpy Crème Anglaise
Using an immersion blender
If you overcooked your crème anglaise and its shiny, smooth days look far gone, don’t worry about it! You can actually restore it to its previous state in two steps: using an immersion blender and then straining it.
The first thing you need to do is transfer the cream to another container to stop the cooking process. Use a tall and narrow container if possible. The immersion blender should ideally be kept under the surface of the cream to avoid air bubbles. So if you use a wide container, the level of the cream will be too low.
Insert the bell into the cream, and start blending in 5 seconds intervals. Once the cream looks good again, strain it into another bowl using a fine-mesh sieve.
There is such a thing as overprocessing the cream though according to Cook’s Illustrated. So don’t blend the cream for too long or you will end up with a very thin and watery sauce. And they also warn against using a blender or a food processor which will ruin the creamy texture by incorporating too many air bubbles.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, I strongly recommend buying one, it’s incredibly useful. But if you don’t have one and your crème anglaise is only slightly lumpy, you can simply strain it through a fine-mesh sieve.
Issues with an overcooked crème anglaise
There is a tiny caveat to salvaging overcooked crème anglaise which I personally haven’t experienced but read about. I thought I’d mention it, just in case. There might be a hint of an eggy taste which some very acute taste testers might complain about! So if you are trying to impress someone and you are not entirely satisfied with the taste, you could try making it again. But for any other purposes, you can just stick to what you have! I’m sure it will be delicious!
Runny Crème Anglaise
Crème anglaise does not contain any starch to thicken it and is primarily thickened by the egg yolks. A runny cream is probably undercooked. The thickening properties of egg yolks are achieved at a certain temperature. If that temperature isn’t reached, the cream will be runny. Solution: Make sure you cook it to about 82°C (180°F) or until the cream coats a spatula.
Is Crème Anglaise Served Hot Or Cold?
Well, that’s up to you! It’s delicious either way! If you decide to serve it hot, you should reheat it very gently though whilst constantly stirring it. You can use a bain-marie or heat it straight on the heat set to low.
Can Crème Anglaise Be Made In Advance?
Crème Anglaise will last in the fridge well covered for up to 2 days. So if you have a sudden urge to make a lava cake with some crème anglaise drizzled on top, you’re already halfway there!
And just to make things easier for you, I’m going to show you tomorrow how to make a chocolate lava cake! So until then!
In case you missed it, head over to the crème Anglaise baking calendar to see what we’ll be learning this month.
1Gisslen, W. (2005). Professional Baking (4th ed.). Wiley.
Gilles, C. (2009). La Cuisine Expliquée. Editions BPI.
Suas, M. (2008). Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach (1st ed.). Delmar Cengage Learning.