Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Oriental Club’s Mid-19th Century “Mutton Curry”

The Duke of Wellington, the first (and only) President of the Oriental Club

In the mid-19th century, the British obsession with Indian curries and culture really started to take off (see this post for a brief history of Britain’s love of spice and India). It wasn’t just the spiciness, but the romance of the place. Queen Victoria loved the country and even had an Indian wing in the palace. Although she was the Empress of India, she never actually visited the country, leaving all that excitement to her sons.

Hanover Square in the 18th Century

Authentic – or very close approximations to authentic – curries were being made in one particular London gentleman’s club called the Oriental Club which could be found in Hanover Square. The club catered for high society – the Duke of Wellington was the President and all the chairmen seem to have been Sirs, Lords, Major-Generals or Vice-Admirals.  The Club was obviously a popular one; it opened in 1825 and in 1961 it moved from Hanover Square to Stratford House on Stratford Square, where it remains to this day. If you are a Londoner (and a man), you can still join, though it does cost between £240 and £850 per year to become a member.

Stretford House, the current home of the Oriental Club

In its hey-day, Chef Richard Terry was at the helm in the kitchen, who took full advantage of the first Asian grocery warehouses; Payne’s Oriental Warehouse on Regent Street and the Oriental Depot on Leicester Square. His recipes were ‘not only from [his] own knowledge of cookery, but from Native Cooks’ too. He published a book called Indian Cookery in 1861, where the recipe below is adapted from. The job of adaptation was not done by me, but Madhur Jaffrey, though I would like to get my hands on a copy.

To make the curry, you need to make a blend of curry powder and curry paste first.

Richard Terry’s 19th Century British Curry Powder

This makes 7 tablespoons of curry powder – enough for more than three curries using the recipe below. You can of course use it in any recipe that asks for ‘curry powder’ in its list of ingredients. All the spices required are ground, but don’t buy ground coriander, pepper, cumin, cardamom and cloves if you can avoid it. Instead, roast whole spices over a medium-high heat in a dry frying pan then grind using a coffee grinder after cooling. All you need to do is mix together the following:

2 tbs ground turmeric

5 tsp ground coriander seed

2 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ tsp ground cloves

Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Sir Ranald Martin’s British Curry Paste

Many old (and new!) recipes ask for curry paste, but don’t always give receipts for the paste itself.  This recipe from Ranald Martin, a Victorian doctor and foodie who lived in India during the 1840s provides us with this one below. He was told it was an old Madras concoction. According to Madhur Jaffrey, the ingredients are very common in Madras, but the combination is ‘totally alien’. Aside from being used in curries, it was also used in sandwiches. The recipe below makes around 12 fluid ounces of paste.

4 tbs whole coriander seeds

2 tbs lentils such as yellow split peas or chana dal

1 tbs whole black peppercorns

1 ½ tsp whole cumin seeds

1 tbs whole brown mustard seeds

1 tbs ground turmeric

1 tbs Cayenne pepper

1 ½ tsp ground ginger

2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

3 cloves of garlic, minced

4 fl oz cider vinegar

6 tbs flavourless cooking oil such as sunflower or peanut oil

Dry-roast the whole spices and lentils in a frying pan until they turn a shade darker and emanate a delicious roasted aroma.

Remove from the heat, cool and grind in a spice or coffee grinder. Add the remaining ingredients except for the oil and stir well. Heat the oil in a frying pan and when hot, add the spice mixture and fry for around five minutes until the paste turns darker. Cool and empty into a jar. Store in the refrigerator.

The Oriental Club’s 19th Century Mutton Curry

Okay, you have made the paste and blended your spices, now you can get on with the curry. You can use either lamb or mutton, but bear in mind, the mutton – although more flavourful – will take longer to cook. If lamb is tricky to get hold of, goat or kid could be used as an alternative. The curry is pretty pungent, but good, dark and rich; I added a couple of peeled, chopped potatoes to add much needed-blandness. This curry serves 4 people and goes very well with plain rice, yoghurt and mango chutney. Would you believe, I forgot to take a photograph!?

4 tbs flavourless cooking oil

1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced

2 tbs 19th Century British Curry Powder

1 tbs 19th Century British Curry Paste

1 ½ lb cubed lamb meat, shoulder is a good cut for this

8 – 12 oz (i.e. a couple of medium-sized) potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

¾ – 1 tsp salt

Heat the oil in one of those wide, deep frying pans that come with a lid. Add the onions and fry until the onions have browned and become crisp. Add the paste and powder, stirring well for a few seconds. Now add the meat and half of the salt, stir, cover and turn the heat right down. Gently fry for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a pint of water (that’s a British pint – 20 fluid ounces) and the potatoes, turn up the heat and when the curry comes to a boil, turn the heat back down, cover and simmer very gently until the meat is tender, around 60 to 90 minutes if using lamb, longer if using mutton. Taste and add more salt if needed.

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The Jewel in the Crown

Britain and India have a long history together which stretch all the way back to the fifteenth century, and that history is based on the fact that India produced and exported spice, and the British had – and still have – a real taste for it. This was all in India’s favour at first; they sold to traders that travelled great distances through Western Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was hugely popular during Tudor times, especially as a status symbol, everything that could be was seasoned with liberal amounts of cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, nutmeg, mace etc.

The East India Trading Company coat of arms

The tables soon turned on New Year’s Eve 1600 when Queen Elizabeth I set up the East India Company after Sir Francis Drake seized a Portuguese ship the carried detailed information about Indian trade. This royal charter essentially put India under English rule. The charter also gave England the right to trade with the America and Africa. All of this behaviour put the noses out of Portugal and the Netherlands who both had well-established trade routes too, prompting the latter to create the Dutch East India Company. There was terrible fighting between the three countries’ fleets brought on by the greed of the European trader and merchants. The English fought on, but it was the Dutch that gained the upper hand. So powerful were they that during this time a Dutch admiral led a flotilla up the Thames with a broom tied to the front of his ship, symbolising that they had swept the seas of the English.

Elizabeth I knights Sir Francis Drake

It wasn’t until the mid-seventeenth century that the English made a return as a major player under the control of Oliver Cromwell of all people; I would have expected him to be against all of the splendour of spices. Later, Charles II renewed the royal charter, and even a second trading company was set up, which eventually joined up with the original.

The United East India Company became an unstoppable force, trading also in sugar, tea and rubber. The greed and mistreatment of the Indian people by the British prompted Prime Minister William Pitt to draw up the India Act of 1784, essentially nationalising the company. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, mutiny was afoot; the Indian people who had become slaves to their British masters, could take no more, prompting the end of the great trading company. India was then passed on to the Crown where it became known as the jewel in the British Empire’s crown.

During this time both British and Indian cuisine changed, particularly during the Victorian Era when the British men were joined by their wives (it never seemed to occur to them to travel all the way to Asia before then). The Brits were soon hooked on Indian food and were eating curry for breakfast. They also brought their own cooking style with them, for example, there became Indian versions of cream of tomato soup, and Anglicised versions of their lamb soups that became Mulligatawny. Although dishes like kedgeree became very popular in Britain, it wasn’t until Victoria’s reign that curries became really popular in Britain, though references to curry dishes can be traced back as far as the sixteenth century.

 Sake Dean Mohamet, owner of Britain’s first Indian restaurant

In 1809, the first Indian restaurant in Britain was opened, though it was a little ahead of its time, closing three years later. Queen Victoria herself loved curries and had Indian servants; at one banquet cailles aux pommes de terre à la Indienne, which is a quail and potato curry to you and I, appeared as a course on the menu. The top restaurants of the time such as the Strand and the Ritz followed suit and put curries on their menus too.

 Queen Victoria gets a lesson in Erdu from an Indian teacher

Then, in the 1960s there was a huge influx of Indian people into Britain, some as doctors and nurses, others seeking refuge with their British passports. Now the curry could really take off, especially in the cities of London, Birmingham and Bradford. Dishes were modified to British tastes and we flocked to the restaurants for the taste of the chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh, the bhajis, and the vindaloos, reaching a peak in the 1980s with the launch of the wonderful Madhur Jaffery’s classic book Indian Cookery. These days people want to taste more authentic curries and the Indian curry restaurant is still going from strength to strength, with several holding Michelin stars, and let’s not forgot that fish and chips has now been displaced by chicken tikka masala as our national dish.

I have absolutely no qualms about including curries in this blog, Britain has always been a cultural sponge especially when it comes to food. This in itself should be celebrated and I am glad new and exciting foods are constantly taking seed and blooming in this country, flourishing alongside – never needing to compete against – fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.

India-inspired recipes added to the blog thus far:

The Oriental Club’s Mid-19th Century “Mutton Curry”

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Pea Soupers

 

London, Parliament: Sun Through the Fog by Claude Monet 1903

London in the mid-to-late nineteenth century must have been an amazing place. There’s nothing I like more than walking around London Bridge and its environs; it is just like walking around a Dickens novel, with the romantic remains of the Marshalsea prison and roads named after his characters such as Clennam and Copperfield Street. There was however, one rather unromantic aspect to London life and that was the intense and deadly pollution created from the huge amount of coal being burnt at the time.

We talk of the smog that lie over the big cities of the modern world, Houston certainly had one, but they all pale in comparison to London smog; it had a very strong sulphurous smell and a green-brown colour to it. The Sun didn’t burn it off, but actually intensified it. Hung-out washing would be visibly dirtier once it had dried. Thousands died from heart and lung problems – it was said that a 30 second walk was the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes – and rickets was widespread due the lack of sunlight. A miserable place indeed:

The fog was so thick that the shops in Bond Street had lights at noon. I could not see people in the street from my windows. I am tempted to ask, how the English became great with so little daylight? It seems not to come fully out until nine in the morning, and immediately after four it is gone…On the 22nd of the month, accidents occurred all over London, from a remarkable fog. Carriages ran against each other, and persons were knocked down by them at the crossings. The whole gang of thieves seemed to be let loose. After perpetrating their deeds, they eluded detection by darting into the fog. It was of an opake, dingy yellow. Torches were used as guides to carriages at mid-day, but gave scarcely any light through the fog. I went out for a few minutes. It was dismal.

Richard Rush, 1883

On several occasions, people fell in the Thames and drowned because they could not see the river right in front of them.

Victorian link boys guide people home

through the London smog

And so, for obvious reasons, the thick London smog became known as a ‘pea souper’. Dried pea based soups and puddings were very popular at this time, especially in the winter when there were no few fresh vegetables around. The soup became known as London particular because of a line from Charles Dickens’ novel Bleak House: “This is a London particular…A fog, miss”, said the young gentleman.

The phrase London particular had actually been around for at least a century – it was used to describe food and drink particular to London, for example London Particular Madeira.

London Particular

This soup is really more of a potage and is very simple and cheap to make. The best thing about it is the wonderful stock made from the addition of a nice ham hock. You can use smoked or unsmoked, or you could go for a couple of pig’s trotters. Either way, it shouldn’t cost you more than 50 pence at the butcher. He might even give you them for free if you bat your eye-lashes at him. The recipe also asks for two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, this might seem like a lot, but it really can take it.

Ingredients

1 lb dried split peas

2 oz butter

3 rashers of smoky bacon, chopped

1 onion, sliced

1 ham knuckle, ham hock or 2 pig’s trotters

pepper

salt

2 tbs Worcestershire sauce

Have a look at the packet of peas; see if they need soaking overnight. If they are non-soak but are particularly old, you might want to soak them.

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan, add the bacon and fry on a medium heat for five minutes. Add the onion and fry until softened. Drain the peas and stir them in, making sure they get a good covering of bacon fat and butter. In amongst the peas, place the hock, knuckle or trotters and cover with water. Add some pepper, but do not add salt at this stage. Bring to a boil and skim off any grey scum, then cover and simmer gently until the peas are all mushy; around 1 ½ to 2 hours. Give the potage a stir every now and then as the peas do tend to stick, particularly towards the end of cooking.

Take out the meat joint and place to one side. Liquidise or mill the soup and return it to the pan. Pick any meat from the joints and add to the soup. Season with salt (if needed), pepper and the Worcestershire sauce.

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The Rhubarb Triangle

It is just about the end of the short British forced rhubarb season, and it is always a treat to see it nestled, glowing pink in a crate at the marketstalls, and it is always sad to see it disappear, as I think it is one of the most wonderful vegetables.

In Britain, the long thin bright pink stalks are grown in an area called the Rhubarb Triangle, also known as the Wakefield triangle, a nine mile square area of land contained by Leeds, Morley and Wakefield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here, the rhubarb is grown in large, heated, low-ceilinged sheds in complete darkness. Because the plants want sunlight, they are forced stretch and grow long and thin in the vain hope of catching some of the Sun’s rays. Hence it is called forced rhubarb. It is also called Champagne rhubarb by some. The rhubarb never gets to attain the green colour like normal field or garden rhubarb has; I think the biological term is chlorosed. It also never gets the chance to develop the very astringent sourness too, but it does still has the wonderful rhubarb flavour. The plants grow so quickly in their desperation to find light that you can actually hear them pop and crack as they stretch and grow. I imagine that it is pretty scary in those dark, dank sheds harvesting the rhubarb by candlelight.

So what is special about West Yorkshire when it comes to growing rhubarb? Apparently, it is the unique mix of soil and climate. I know that that might sound rather trite, but I think in this case it might actually be true; Wakefield is the only place in the UK where one can successfully grow liquorice and the reason for that is because of its soil. Yorkshire-produced Forced Rhubarb has been given Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Commission’s Protected Food Name scheme, just like Stilton Cheese, and famously not like Cornish pasties. That said the forced rhubarb I got was from Mexico.

It wasn’t until the discovery that rhubarb could be forced in the 1840s that the vegetable caught on as a ‘fruit’ in crumbles, pies &c. (it isn’t a true fruit as there are no seeds). Before then, like many plants, it was grown for medicinal purposes. It was such a revered drug for treating gut, lung and liver disorders that it was worth thrice the price of opium! It was first introduced into Europe by Marco Polo from Asia during the thirteenth century, and was first grown in Britain in the mid-seventeenth century.

Okay, that’s enough waffle, it is recipe time. Rhubarb is great for desserts and jams, and it is also great with fish, particularly oily fish. There are many recipes that I could add to the post, but the best has to be…

Rhubarb Crumble

This is my favourite way of eating rhubarb: tart fruit, sweet crunchy topping and loads of proper custard (link here for a recipe for that). I like to include some ginger in my crumble, they are a classic combination. Here I use it twice, ground ginger in the topping, and preserved ginger in with the gently stewed fruit. Orange zest and juice also work well as an alternative.

Ingredients

10 sticks of rhubarb, forced if possible

2 knobs of preserved ginger, chopped, plus one tbs of the syrup

4 tbs caster sugar

4 oz butter

4 oz Demerara sugar, or half caster sugar and half soft dark brown sugar

6 oz plain flour

2 oz oats

1 tsp ground ginger

Slice the rhubarb sticks into one inch lengths. If buying forced rhubarb, there should be no need for peeling, but older, field grown sticks might need it. Place the rhubarb and caster sugar in a saucepan with the ginger and syrup, plus a couple of tablespoons of water. Cover, and simmer gently until the rhubarb is tender, about 10 minutes. Try not to stir the rhubarb too much, as it easily breaks up. If there is a lot of liquid, take the lid off and let it simmer away a little. Add more sugar if necessary; field-grown rhubarb may need more. Cool.

Meanwhile, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour, using fingers, mixer or processor. Stir in the flour, oats and ginger.

Pour the rhubarb into a pie dish, or baking dish and pile on the crumble topping. I like loads of topping, but if there is too much for you, freeze the remainder for future crumbles.

Bake at 160⁰C for 45 minutes. Serve with custard, cream or vanilla (or even better, ginger) ice cream.

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Angels and Devils on Horseback

A Victorian hors d’œuvre that has died a death in recent decades; an angel on horseback is simply an oyster wrapped in bacon and grilled; a devil is a tea-soaked prune treated the same way. The main reason for this is that oysters were then poor man’s food and now they are a delicacy; it is odd to think of the working-class tucking into these at dinner rather than the upper middle classes. Of course, the tables were turned by the time we hit the 20th Century. If you have never tried oysters before, this is a good way to introduce yourself to them, I reckon. They should have a comeback as they are delicious, and if you can’t afford – or stomach – oysters, then at least have a go at making the devils, though they are best made together.

The best oysters for the angels are the large Pacific ones – especially if you can get them pre-shucked. The best prunes are the squidgy ‘giant’ ones; if you can’t find them, just substitute two normal prunes for each giant one. There are many elaborate recipes, especially for the angels; the oysters in one are  breaded and fried, in another they are chopped up to make a stuffing. These things are best kept simple – the raw ingredients should speak for themselves.

You can make these delightful and delicious bite-size nibbles as some decadent finger-food on rounds of bread fried in butter or alongside some roast poultry instead of pigs in blankets.

Angels on Horseback

12 large shucked oysters

Cayenne pepper or Tabasco sauce (optional)

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

First, soak 12 wooden toothpicks in some water and get your grill nice and hot. Season your oysters with a little Cayenne or Tabasco sauce if using and roll each in a piece of bacon, securing it with a toothpick. Place them on a baking sheet and grill until the bacon is crisp and the oysters are plump. Serve immediately.

Devils on Horseback

12 large prunes or 24 small ones

Freshly brewed, strong tea

12 roasted, salted almonds

6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon cut in half

Soak your prunes in the hot tea until plump – this will take 30 minutes if no-soak prunes, or overnight if they require soaking.* Remove the stones if the prunes are pitted then fills the gap it has left with a roasted almond. If you are using small prunes, sandwich an almond between two of them. Spear with a cocktail stick and grill as described above.

*Don’t throw away the tea for it tastes delicious!

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What is a Pudding?: Addendum

Quite a while ago, I wrote a post called ‘What is a Pudding?‘ and it seems I made a few little errors within. I don’t like to be wrong, so thought I would put it right. The subject was a little essay on the origins of puddings – the boiled and steamed kind, which I argued was the proper definition of a pudding. I still don’t think I am wrong on that count, but I did accuse some puddings of being mock puddings:

So, a pudding is any dessert, or the name for the dessert course. Aside from the proper puddings…there are some that go under a false name: bread and butter pudding [and] sticky toffee pudding…are examples of this. Why are these puddings and, say, an apple pie not called an apple pie pudding?

Well it seems that I can answer my own question, at least in part. I was flicking through The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman by Gervase Markham which dates from 1615 (for context King James I of England and VI of Scotland was reigning) and it seems that some of the puddings that are baked today have their roots in the simmering pot. In fact a pair of my favourites – the rice pudding and previously accused bread and butter pudding are specifically mentioned. Their forerunners were cooked in natural intestinal casings – farmes – just like black puddings:

Rice puddings

Take half a pound of rice, and steep it in new milk a whole night, and in the morning drain it, and let the milk drop away; then take a quart of the best, sweetest and thickest cream, and put the rice into it, and boil it a little; then set it to cool an hour or two, and after put in the yolks of half a dozen eggs, a little pepper, cloves, mace, currants,dates, sugar and salt; and having mixed them well together, put in a great store of beef suet well beaten and small shred, and so put it into the farmes…and serve them after a day old.

To make bread puddings

Take the yolks and whites of a dozen or fourteen eggs, and, having beat them very well, put to them the fine powder of cloves, mace, nutmegs, sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and salt; then take the quantity of two loaves of white grated bread, dates (very small shred) and great store of currants, with good plenty either of sheep’s, hog’s or beef suet beaten and cut small; then when all is mixed and stirred well together, and hath stood a while to settle, then fill it into farmes…and in like manner boil them, cook them, and serve them to the table.

I was corrected on the sticky toffee pudding in that post… I wonder how many other puddings that are not boiled today once were? I shall go through the books with a fine-toothed comb and report back. More interestingly, I need to get my hands on some farmes and make these bad boys myself and see how they compare to their modern counterparts…

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Proper Custard

By proper custard I mean the pourable kind that goes on your pie, crumble or steam pudding. It also assumes the name cream custard and, of course, crème anglaise; you see it given that name in restaurants that trying to look all ‘high-end’, I suppose in many people’s minds, custard comes out of a packet or tin whilst crème anglaise is the real deal.

Custard in Britain has become somewhat of a travesty over the last few decades and I wonder how many people have actually ever eaten the proper stuff, whatever name you like to call it. I think it appears extravagant, fattening or difficult to make. Well it might be guilty on the first two counts against it because of the egg yolks and cream that are used, but it’s not really that difficult. All it needs is a watchful eye and a little stirring. There ways of making it easier to conjure up, as well as reducing its calorie count and cost, and there is no need to always resort going to the packet or tin.

Now, before you label me a custard snob, I need to point something out: I actually love custard made with custard powder and there’s really nothing wrong with it per se, but until you make the real stuff you won’t see they are almost incomparable. That said, there has been many an evening when I have a made a whole pint of Bird’s custard and eaten the whole lot to myself, but if there are people coming round for food, I always get the vanilla and egg yolks out.

Bird’s custard was my first contact so it will always have a special place in both my heart and stomach. However, technically, Bird’s custard isn’t custard at all, for it contains no egg (see the main post on custard). The powder was invented by Alfred Bird in 1837 because his wife, though she liked custard, was terribly allergic to eggs. Bird’s custard powder is simply cornflour with some vanilla flavouring and colouring. The famous three birds logo wasn’t introduced until the 1920s, surprisingly.

Tinned custard is pretty good too and, up until the last five or so years, it was the form I bought custard in if I wanted proper custard. My tinned custard of choice? Ambrosia Devon Custard of course – nothing else would do – and, like the Bird’s, I still love it. Again, however, Ambrosia custard does not contain eggs or egg products so is not proper custard.

Now you can go off and buy the proper stuff in the refrigerator section of your local supermarket, always called crème anglaise of course, but you may as well make your own if you’re going to do that. Next time you make a trifle or a nice warm pudding, why not try making the real thing – England’s only sauce as the French call it – proper custard.

It’s a recipe that goes far, far back and I gave an early recipe a few posts ago (see here). I hope to try some old recipes in the near future. These days vanilla is the typical flavouring, whether it be in the form of a pod, an extract or as vanilla sugar, but it is optional. Some like no spice or some go for an alternative like nutmeg or cinnamon. For me, vanilla is the only way. It is sweetened with sugar and the amount you add depends on your own taste, but as a rule I like sweet custard, especially when it’s with a tart fruit pie or crumble or with a stodgy suet pudding. I add less sugar if the dessert is very sweet, like treacle tart or sticky toffee pudding.

When it comes to thickening the custard, you need to be careful not to over-cook it as it results in curdling. If you are new to custard making, the best thing to do is to replace two yolks with two teaspoons of cornflour; it works as a thickener like the yolks, but it also stabilises everything, so you’re less likely to make an error. The recipe below uses six egg yolks, but if you want thicker custard add another, or another teaspoon of cornflour.

 

Ingredients

1 pint of milk, or a mixture of milk and cream

1 vanilla pod or ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract

6 egg yolks or 4 egg yolks and 2 tsp cornflour

1 to 2 tbs sugar

 

Split the vanilla pod, if using, and scrape out the seeds and add to a saucepan along with the milk and cream. Bring slowly to almost boiling point. Meanwhile beat the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together in a bowl.

making custard

When the milk and cream are scalding hot and about to boil, pour it quickly onto the egg mixture whilst vigorously beating with a whisk. Tip the custard back into the saucepan and stir over a very low heat for a few minutes until it thickens and coats the back of your wooden spoon. On no account, let the custard boil, otherwise you will get scrambled egg. The temperature you are looking to achieve is 81⁰C (178⁰F). So if you are worried that it will curdle, either make sure you include the cornflour and/or put the custard in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Don’t worry if there is a little curdling; simply pass it through a sieve and everyone will be none the wiser.

home made custard

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