This Vanilla Bean Custard recipe is rich, creamy and super flavorful. It's delicious on its own and can be used in dozens of different recipes. And one of the benefits of using whole vanilla pods in the recipe is learning how to make vanilla sugar.
Vanilla custards are incredibly versatile and so delicious.
There are tons of different custard recipes out there and they all vary slightly. However, most custards contain eggs, cream or milk, sugar and usually a thickening agent.
My Vanilla Bean Custard recipe contains butter. You'll see butter in some recipes, but mostly in smaller amounts than this one.
During my Baking and Pastry course in culinary school (way back when 😉 ), the instructor gave us a formula that used butter that's very similar to this recipe. It's so incredibly silky smooth, that it's the only one I've ever used.
How to Make it
- Add most of the milk, the butter, sugar and salt to a small sauce pot.
- Remove the beans from the vanilla pod by first cutting the pod in half horizontally.
- Then use a paring knife to vertically slice down the center of each half, but not cutting all the way through.
- Use the back of the knife to gently scrape out the seeds.
- Add the vanilla beans and the emptied pods to the pot and place it over medium heat. Stirring occasionally, heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.
- Whisk the remaining milk with the egg and cornstarch until smooth.
- Then add about a cup of the hot milk mixture to this and immediately whisk to blend. Now pour this into the pot and turn the heat to low and constantly whisk until there's a strong simmer and the mixture is thickening. It should coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove from the heat and strain and let it cool to room temperature. (Save the vanilla pods for making vanilla sugar - see below.)
(More detailed instructions are below.)
Uses for Vanilla Custard
- It's amazing in fruit tarts, and most of them traditionally have a thin layer of it (or pastry cream) beneath the fresh fruit.
- The custard is wonderful between layers of cake.
- It's delicious and so pretty spooned into a pretty glass and topped with fresh fruit, or a drizzle of a chocolate sauce.
- And it's absolutely unbelievable on its own.
Can you make it ahead?
You can make the custard up to 4 days ahead, keeping it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Beneath the lid of the container, put plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to keep it as fresh as possible and to keep it from forming a "skin."
Recipe Tips and Substitutions
- I use whole milk in this recipe, but you can also use low-fat or non-fat. I would recommend low-fat or whole milk if possible -- it'll give you a creamier, richer result.
- Make sure when you whisk the cornstarch with the milk and egg that it's completely smooth. This will prevent the cornstarch form being lumpy in the custard.
- It's very important not to skip tempering the milk mixture -- this is the part in the recipe when you'll add the egg and cornstarch to the hot milk mixture. (Tempering is when you bring two liquids together to create a similar temperature before combining them completely. This will keep the eggs from curdling.)
When you make this vanilla custard recipe, it's also the perfect time to make vanilla sugar.
How to Make Vanilla Sugar
It's quite simple, any time you use vanilla beans, save the empty pods and add them them to a jar of sugar.
You can do this even if they've soaked in other ingredients (i.e., in the vanilla bean custard recipe they soak in the milk mixture). Just rinse them off and let them air dry first.
I've had a jar of vanilla sugar for years, and every time I use vanilla beans, I do this. When the sugar is getting low, I just add more.
How do you use vanilla sugar?
Use it just as you would use sugar in your baking recipes -- using it will impart the delicious vanilla flavor. I use it in cookies, cakes, quick breads, and it's also super delicious in coffee with cream.
I think there’s something so deliciously comforting about this Vanilla Bean Custard recipe — I hope you discover it too!
A few recipes with various custards:
- Frozen Lemon Lavender Custard
- Mexican Chocolate Crème Brûlée
- Cranberry Creme Brûlée with Amaretto
- Lemon Custard Pie
Vanilla Bean Custard Recipe
- 1½ cups whole milk, divided
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 large vanilla bean pod
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 large egg
- Combine most of the milk, butter, sugar and salt. Add 1¼ cups of the milk to a medium-sized sauce pot. Then add the butter, sugar and salt.
- Prepare the vanilla. Remove the beans from the vanilla pod by first cutting the pod in half horizontally. Then use a paring knife to vertically slice down the center of each half, but not cutting all the way through. With the back of the knife, scrape the vanilla beans into the saucepan and add the emptied pod as well. Set aside.
- Make a slurry. In a small bowl, add the egg to the remaining ¼ cup of milk and the cornstarch. Use a small whisk to blend it until it's smooth. (This is called a slurry.)
- Cook and temper. Place the saucepan with the milk-butter mixture over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Stir, reduce the heat to low and use a ladle to add about a cup or so of the hot milk mixture to the slurry and immediately blend with the whisk. (This is called tempering.) Now you can add this to the remaining milk mixture in the saucepan and whisking constantly, bring it to a strong simmer. Once you see bubbles and the mixture has slightly thickened, it's done. It should coat the back of a spoon. (It thickens even more as it's cooling.) Remove it from the stove.
- Strain and cool. Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the custard through it. You might need the back of a spoon to help you press it through. Cool to room temperature and then store it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Beneath the lid of the container, put plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to keep it as fresh as possible and to keep from forming a “skin.”
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