Crème anglâise is a classic French custard sauce and absolutely divine. Brimming with flecks of real vanilla bean, rich, and silky, it's scrumptious enough to eat off of a spoon. And this quick and easy vanilla sauce needs just five ingredients (but you can fudge it with four).
Crème anglâise is a luscious, mildly sweet custard sauce speckled and scented with real vanilla bean. Despite the French moniker, the sauce has British roots and translates to English cream. Although, there is no comparing a true crème anglâise to traditional British custard creams (which are often enjoyed from a can).
The real beauty of vanilla sauce is its simplicity. You can turn a few pantry staples into a silky sauce in a matter of minutes. It's a versatile foundation for an array of sweet dishes, including bread pudding, pancakes and French toast. And is the base for ice cream and crème brulée. Fancy a bit of eggnog at that time of year? With nutmeg and booze if you dare, créme anglâise becomes a merry little glass of holiday cheer (you're welcome).
Classical crème anglâise calls for equal parts heavy cream and whole milk. But plenty of variations give you lovely results. For the most aromatic and enticing vanilla flavor, splurge on a vanilla bean.
Syrupy vanilla bean paste is a wonderful option. The jars aren't cheap but you get more for your money. Or you can whisk in several overflowing tablespoons of pure, rich vanilla extract.
- heavy whipping cream
- whole milk
- granulated sugar
- egg yolks (save the whites for French macarons)
- vanilla bean, vanilla bean paste, or pure vanilla extract
The textbook formula dictates the amounts of liquid, egg yolks, and sugar. Any combination of milk and cream (or just milk) makes for a showstopper of a sauce.
4 parts milk, cream, or half & half + 1 part egg yolks + 1 part sugar
So a recipe for one cup of sauce looks like this:
- 1 cup (8 ounces) of whole milk
- 3 egg yolks (2 ounces)
- ¼ cup (or about 2 ounces) of granulated sugar
- vanilla bean or vanilla extract
The most important part is to stick near the ratio of egg yolks to milk and cream. The sugar can be adjusted to your liking.
At the CIA (culinary arts, not espionage), our chefs taught crème anglâise in a matter of minutes. Boil cream. Steep vanilla bean. Whisk into the eggs and sugar, cook it over low heat until it thickens, and strain.
An ice bath to cool the sauce or a thermometer to check its temperature were not imperatives. Merely afterthoughts or suggestions. So what's the secret to perfect crème anglâise? Low heat, constant stirring, and taking it off at just the right moment.
- Familiarize yourself with the technique. Read carefully through these steps before you begin. The vanilla sauce technique is fairly simple. But the process is quick and it's helpful to know what to expect.
- Separate the yolks and add the sugar. Separate your egg yolks from the whites, and place them in a small heat-proof bowl. The better you can remove all of the white that hugs the yolk the silkier the sauce will be. Whisk the granulated sugar into the yolks. Place the bowl near the stove on a damp towel. The towel will keep the bowl from sliding when you whisk in the hot liquid later. Have a wooden spoon handy.
- Combine the milk, cream, and vanilla bean. Measure your milk and/or cream into an appropriately-sized pot. With a small sharp knife, slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Then submerge it in the liquid. Add a tiny pinch of salt.
- Boil the cream mixture. Bring the mixture just to a boil over medium heat. Then immediately take the pot off the burner. You can steep the vanilla bean in the hot liquid for a few minutes or up to an hour (but you don't have to). Remove the vanilla bean pod and scrape the seeds into the hot cream.
- Temper in the egg yolks. Slowly drizzle the just-boiled cream mixture into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. This prevents the egg yolks from curdling by bringing them slowly up to the same temperature as the vanilla cream.
- Low heat until it coats the spoon. Return the mixture to the pan and cook over very low heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. You never want bubbles to break the surface. When it thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon, take the pot off the heat right away. The expression "coats the spoon" means you can draw a line through the sauce on the back of the spoon that holds.
- Strain and serve. Strain the sauce through a mesh sieve (strainer). Serve the custard warm, or chill it to use it for ice cream, eggnog, or cold desserts. You can do this quickly by setting the bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water and stirring frequently. Or simply cover and refrigerate it.
- Storage. Store créme anglâise in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat the vanilla sauce very gently in a pot on the stove over the lowest heat possible.
- Steep the cream with the vanilla bean. French tradition dictates soaking the vanilla bean in barely boiled cream before adding the egg yolks. So for the ultimate crème anglâise, bring the vanilla bean pod and liquids just to a boil. Then let it all sit for ten or twenty minutes, or up to an hour. Remove the pod and scrape the seeds into the cream, and whisk it slowly into the egg yolks before returning it to the pot to finish the cooking.
- Aim for 175° F. You shouldn't cook crème anglâise much past 175° F, since that's the temperature at which egg yolks begin to coagulate (curdle). The best way to avoid sweet scrambled eggs is to cook over very low heat, stir constantly, and use a thermometer your first time out. I take my sauce off the heat when it's around 170° F for safety.
- Use whole milk. While you can certainly use any milk you have on hand, I recommend whole milk. What makes crème anglâise so rich and creamy is the fat content. Lower fat and skim milk don't bring that to the table.
Ketogenic. Crème anglâise can be enjoyed as a rare treat on a ketogenic or low-carb diet. As long as you ditch the sugar. If you have a favorite monk fruit extract or sugar replacement, follow the package instructions for replacing conventional sugar. Or simply load up on the vanilla bean and warm spices. It's delicious when served under a stack of chaffles (low-carb waffles made with cream cheese and eggs).
GAPS Diet. GAPS diet crème anglâise may seem impossible, but it can be done. Reach for organic, grass-fed, or even raw heavy cream, whole milk, or goat's milk. Then replace the sugar with half the amount in raw honey. Voila! Crème anglaise pour les amis de GAPS (vanilla sauce for our GAPS friends)!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you'd like to make crème anglâise without heavy cream, you certainly can. Vanilla sauce made with only milk will be thinner and not as creamy. But you can replace what's lost from the heavy cream (fat!) by adding an extra egg yolk. Whole milk is the best choice for a crème anglâise made without cream.
If you follow the classical technique of boiling the vanilla bean with the milk and cream, you will want to temper in the egg yolks. Otherwise, they can curdle from the shock of the temperature change. But if you plan to add vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste after straining, you can combine all of the ingredients cold in the pot from the beginning. Then cook them slowly over low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring and scraping constantly.
In a pinch, you can melt any vanilla bean ice cream as a substitute for crème anglâise. Honestly, an artisan vanilla ice cream is crème anglâise in frozen form. So it's really not a substitute, just a temperature change! If you don't mind the nutmeg, eggnog is also crème anglâise in pasteurized, pourable form. Simply warm it up!
The best way to melt the ice cream is to let it naturally come to room temperature. Or warm it over extremely low heat on the stove (I'd avoid the microwave). If you are planning ahead to dodge the chore of homemade vanilla sauce, look for ice cream brands that use real milk and cream. And don't list too many mystery ingredients on the label.
You can certainly whip up a concoction of warm sweetened condensed milk thinned with milk and flavored with vanilla. But it isn't a substitute or shortcut for true crème anglâise. The classical sauce is carefully crafted to be silky, creamy, brimming with pure vanilla beans, and most importantly, not too sweet. The same can not be said of sweetened condensed milk.
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1 cup of whole milk
- ⅓ to ½ cup of granulated sugar (or ¼ cup of raw honey for the GAPS diet)
- 6 egg yolks
- 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste or 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract)
- Bourbon or other liquor (for serving over bread pudding)
- Citrus zest
- Ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and other warming spices
- Separate your egg yolks from the whites, and place them in a small heat-proof bowl. Add the granulated sugar to the bowl with the yolks and whisk to combine. Place it near the stove on a damp towel. The towel will keep the bowl from sliding when you whisk in warm cream later. Have a wooden spoon handy.
- Measure the milk and/or cream into a pot. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and pry it open a little, then submerge it in the milk. Add a tiny pinch of salt.
- Bring the milk mixture just to a boil over medium-high heat. Then quickly turn off the heat and let the vanilla bean steep in the hot liquid for several minutes, up to an hour (optional). Remove the pod, scraping all of the vanilla seeds into the pot.
- Slowly whisk the warm mixture into the egg yolks and sugar by drizzling it in from several inches above the bowl.
- Return the mixture to the pot and cook it over very low heat. Stir constantly and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon as it cooks (ditch the whisk for this part).
- When the sauce coats the back of the spoon, remove it immediately. "Coats the spoon" means you can draw a line through the sauce on the back of the spoon that holds. If you prefer to gauge by temperature, cook crème anglâise to around 175° F. Any higher and you risk curdling the egg yolks.
- Strain the sauce through a mesh sieve into a heat-proof container or bowl. If you're adding vanilla extract or additional flavorings, stir them in now. To chill crème anglâise quickly, set the bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water, and stir frequently to cool it. Or store it covered in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
- To reheat the vanilla sauce, warm it very gently in a pot over the lowest heat possible.
On steeping. French culinary tradition calls for steeping a vanilla bean in the warm cream for a while (or at least briefly boiling it in the cream). But crème anglâise is still sinfully delicious with a nice dose of pure vanilla extract. If you aren't using a vanilla bean, you can combine all of the ingredients in the pot, and cook them over low heat until the sauce coats the spoon.
On the Yolks. You have a little leeway when it comes to the number of egg yolks you use in relation to the milk and cream. One less or one more won't make too much of a difference. You'll just end up with a slightly thinner or thicker custard sauce. For a traditional consistency, stick with the recipe as written. But if you're short an egg yolk, don't fret and use what you have.
On Heavy Cream. Crème anglâise can be made with only milk and without heavy cream. Replace what's lost from the heavy cream, namely fat, by adding another egg yolk to the recipe. Or simply replace the cream with another cup of whole milk, it'll still be delicious.
For Eggnog. Use all heavy cream for crowd-pleasing eggnog at your annual holiday soirée. Add freshly grated nutmeg to taste, but start with ½ teaspoon for this recipe. For thinner easy-drinking eggnog, you can take away two of the egg yolks, or add another half of a cup of heavy cream.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Desserts
- Method: Tempering
- Cuisine: French
- Diet: Gluten Free
- Serving Size: 4 ounces
- Calories: 322
- Sugar: 29.8 g
- Sodium: 46.8 mg
- Fat: 19.6 g
- Carbohydrates: 30.4 g
- Protein: 6.8 g
- Cholesterol: 316.7 mg
Keywords: crème anglâise, vanilla sauce recipe, how to make crème anglâise
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