This crème anglaise recipe yields a silky smooth vanilla custard sauce that is super easy to make. The creamy sauce bursts of vanilla and milky flavors. Absolutely perfect on a hot Summer day pouring it over fresh berries, or over bread pudding the rest of the year!
In Norway we are pretty big on vanilla sauce, or vaniljesaus, and its thicker friend, vanilla custard. We put the custard in buns, on top of buns, on top of pavlova, inside a cake - you name it. But the vanilla sauce or crème anglaise is usually only reserved for two things - jello and fresh berries. It may be used on less, but it is definitely equally loved.
Keep reading to find links to all of these!
What is it and why is it called crème anglaise?
Crème anglaise means English Cream in French. It is an English thin custard sauce with milk (or cream) whipped with eggs and sugar, over low heat. I did some digging to find out why an English sauce is named in French. And one plausible reason is that French cooks worked for wealthy English families. The cooks would then come up with the sauce based on what they knew in French cooking.
It also sounds way fancier in French than in English, and English Cream could be misunderstood. It's likely the only reason why it's called that. No matter the name, it is a delicious and sweet sauce.
Is crème anglaise the same as custard?
Yes and no. A crème anglaise is a thin custard sauce, while a custard is often seen as much thicker than a sauce. A crème anglaise uses more eggs to thicken the sauce, and no cornstarch, while a custard is thickened using cornstarch. You can use a crème anglaise with a little cornstarch to make a custard, but you can't do it the other way around.
- Crème anglaise: a thin custard sauce with egg yolks to thicken the sauce, no cornstarch and gentle heat.
- Crème pâtissière: a deliciously rich and creamy custard thickened with cornstarch and eggs. Much thicker than a crème anglaise. Also known as vanilla pastry cream. Try it in these recipes: Vanilla Custard Filled Crescent Rolls, Lemon Ricotta Cake with Vanilla Pastry Cream, Vanilla Custard and Coconut Sweet Buns.
- Chantilly Creme: what I would call whipped cream, a lightly whipped cream with sugar and vanilla. I am covering this Fresh Strawberry Cake in a Chantilly. Also flavored with eggnog in these Christmas Pavlovas.
- Crème Legere: vanilla pastry cream with folded whipped cream. Try it in these Soft Cakes with Rum Pastry Cream and Apricot or on the very best Summer Berry Pavlova.
- Diplomat and Bavarois: crème pâtissière + chantilly + gelatin. I've never made these, but they get the consistency of panna cotta.
Is it served hot or cold?
It is served cold, but if you want to serve it warm - go ahead! It thickens a bit once it's cool and so then you get the right creamy consistency. However, whenever I taste the sauce before I chill it, I think it tastes amazing too.
What to serve with vanilla custard sauce?
Honestly, the first and foremost reason to make a creamy crème anglaise sauce, is to pour it over a bunch of delicious, seasonal and fresh berries.
My favorite combination is actually red currants and blueberries. These don't even have to be fresh! I often pick them during Summer, combine them with a little sugar and then freeze. Now you've got a delicious dessert the rest of the year! They are actually best when sliiightly frozen as they've got a little more texture that way. Take it out of the freezer a couple of hours before serving.
Another classic is to serve it with strawberries, as I've done in the photos. But I definitely prefer strawberries fresh in this case.
Last year, when my grandpa passed away, I wanted to share a recipe that he would love, but didn't have the capacity to make a new recipe at the time, so I shared something I already had. What I shared was a fresh jello recipe, because fresh jello is absolutely AMAZING with a vanilla custard sauce. And he loved vanilla custard sauce like nobody else.
He once said that;
Vanilla custard sauce works with anything, except pork roast.
I'm pretty sure it works with way less than that, but the point is he loved his crème anglaise. His birthday is coming up this week, and therefore I'm sharing this with you today.
It is also classic to serve a crème anglaise on top of bread puddings and cakes. It would be delicious on this apple pie cake, this rhubarb crisp or maybe a large and fluffy cinnamon roll. This French toast casserole uses a cold, uncooked kind of crème anglaise (before baking the toast), but why not use this fancier crème anglaise for an ultimate brunch experience.
Do I have to use a real vanilla bean? How do I open it?
Yes! Using a real vanilla bean actually makes a huge difference. In recipes where the vanilla flavor is really important, such as in a crème anglaise, vanilla pastry cream or vanilla ice cream - you cannot use vanilla extract.
I am all for using vanilla extracts in baked goods, where vanilla is just complementing other flavors (such as in this honey banana bread), but sometimes we need the real deal.
To open a vanilla bean is very easy too. If it's got a lot of weird shapes (like turning in different directions), it may be easier to first cut it in half. If it's a straight one, you don't have to do this. Take the tip of a sharp knife, and run it along the center of the vanilla bean (1), to slice it open (like a hot dog bread).
Now take the tip of your knife and slide it along the cut-open bean, so as all the vanilla pods follow along to the edge (2). It is especially these pods that are super flavorful, so whatever you do - try to keep as many of them as possible! To get max flavor, I also put in the cut-open vanilla bean, but discard it once the sauce is done and strained.
What if I want to make a vegan or eggless custard sauce?
I haven't tried these, but I've seen some common grounds and it seems like you can use cornstarch instead of eggs to thicken the sauce. For my recipe, you can omit the egg yolks, and use 2-3 tablespoon cornstarch instead. Whisk it in a little milk before pouring it into the rest of the liquid to avoid any lumps.
To make it vegan, you can use non-dairy milk like coconut or almond. That is no problem at all. And cornstarch as thickening such as in the eggless version above. The sauce will have a subtle taste of coconut or almond, but that just sounds delicious, doesn't it. But full disclosure, I haven't tried these (yet!), but I don't see why they shouldn't work.
How to avoid curdling the crème anglaise to make it silky smooth
A crème anglaise can easily curdle if you rush. The key to a silky smooth sauce is to take your time, use medium low heat and to pour the hot cream into the eggs in a slow stream while whisking. It may also curdle if you cook it for too long, 7-10 minutes is all it takes once you are thickening it. It is super easy, you just need to keep these two things in mind.
If you want to be scientific on this matter, the cooking temperature should be between 70 °C (156 °F) and 83 °C (180 °F); the higher the temperature, the thicker the resulting sauce, as long as the yolks are fully incorporated into the mixture.
And be sure to whisk at all times!
What if it's already curdled?
No problem! To fix a curdled vanilla custard sauce, you can blend the sauce to help regain that silky texture. An immersion blender is the easiest, but you can also pour it into a regular blender, just be careful as the custard sauce is hot. We will also strain the sauce before serving, so you don't have to worry about small imperfections.
And at last; How to make this recipe
In a large saucepan, add heavy cream, milk and one cut open vanilla bean with its pods (1). On medium low heat, bring this to a simmer.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks (2). Slowly pour in the milk mixture while constantly whisking (3). Pouring slowly prevents the eggs to get cooked.
Pour all this back into the saucepan to thicken (4). On medium low heat, while constantly whisking, for about 7-10 minutes. It's thick enough once you can coat the back of a spoon, run your finger along it and if the streak is still there, that's the spot.
As I mentioned above, this is between 70 °C (156 °F) and 83 °C (180 °F); the higher the temperature, the thicker the resulting cream, as long as the yolks are fully incorporated into the mixture. But there's no need to check the temperature if you don't want to!
Strain and remove the vanilla bean. Chill in a tub of cold water to quickly cool and to avoid cooking the eggs. It will thicken more once it's cold.
I hope you will like it as much as I do! Scroll down to find a printable recipe card, enjoy!
Did you like this recipe? Here's more creamy desserts I know you will love:
- Pumpkin Crème Brûlée
- Peppermint Cream Cheese Filled Truffles
- Rhubarb Custard Tartlets
- Soft Cake with Rum Pastry Cream and Apricot
- Vanilla Custard Filled Crescent Rolls
- Lemon Meringue Cupcakes with Lemon Curd Filling
- Spiced Brown Buttercream Frosting
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