Yotam Ottolenghi's custard recipes (2024)

Custard is controversial: what makes it a custard, how best to cook it and, crucially, isit to be eaten or put in a pie and thrown? I've never lobbed a plate of food in my life, so I will have to settle for sharing my thoughts on the what-it-is and how-to-make-it side of things.

There is no gospel on the subject, though there is a clear distinction between the custard that is baked firm in the oven and the pouring custard made on the stovetop (also known as crème anglaise). What goes into your custard depends, again, on what type you're after. While asurplus of egg yolks would probably influence most people's decision that it's a custard day, the absence of eggs in the best-known powdered custard brand – Alfred Bird developed his recipe in 1837 togain favour with his wife, who was allergic to eggs – proves a pretty major exception to the rule.

As for whether custard should be made with milk or cream, you can use either, or a mixture. That said, the milk-only version makes for a super-smooth custard and lets the richness of the egg yolks shine through.

If you're baking a firm custard, you'll need a bain-marie to keep the heat gentle and so prevent the mixture from curdling. And if you're cooking a crème on the stovetop, you'll need a heavy-based pan and time: a really thick, silky-smooth custard takes at least 15 minutes of continuous stirring on a low heat.

Speaking as someone who didn't go through the UK school system, with all the culinary baggage that entails, I am inordinately fond of custard in any shape or form. And assuch, I have to share a revelation Ihad while filming in Crete this summer: it's called bougatsa, and it's a slab of semolina custard baked inside thin pastry and drizzled with honey. It'sthe most delicious, inoffensive custard you'll ever face. Give ita go, or watch it being made by amaster – not me, I hasten to add – next Thursday at 9pm on More4.


If you can't get coarse semolina, this will still work with fine. Serves eight.

750ml whole milk
300ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped
The peel of 1 orange, shaved off in long strips (use a vegetable peeler)
75g caster sugar
100g coarse semolina
1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
75g unsalted butter, diced
32 sheets filo (17cm x 17cm)
120g melted unsalted butter
3 tbsp orange blossom honey, oranother floral honey
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Put the milk, cream, vanilla pod and seeds, orange peel and a third of a teaspoon of salt in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat straight away and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.

Return the milk to the heat, and while it's warming up, put the sugar, semolina, whole egg and egg yolks in a large heatproof bowl. Whisk the egg mix and when the milk is hot, slowly whisk it into the bowl in a steady stream. Tip the mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring, over a low heat for 12-14 minutes, until very thick. Remove and discard the vanilla pod and orange peel, and whisk in the diced butter. Pour into a square-ish dish or tray, and leave to cool. Cover and put in the fridge to set for three hours, or overnight.

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cut the custard into eight even squares: don't worry if they are not perfectly firm. Place one sheet of filo on a clean surface and brush with butter. Lay another sheet of filo on top and brush it, too, with butter. Repeat with a third and fourth layer of filo. Place a square of custard in the centre of the filo, at a 45-degree angle to the pastry, lift up a corner of filo and fold it up and over the custard. Draw up the opposite corner, so you have an envelope of custard encased in filo. Butter the top and place folded side up on a parchment-lined baking tray. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard, then bake for 25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Drizzle the bougatsa with honey while they're still warm and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chai brûlée tarts

Yotam Ottolenghi's custard recipes (1)

These are based on the magnificent tarts made by Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney, Australia. You'll need to start a day ahead, so the flavours have time to infuse the custard, and you'll also need two muffin trays (or cook them in two batches). I use a blowtorch to caramelise the sugar, but you can also put the tarts under a hot grill, though that doesn't work quite as well. Makes 16.

700ml double cream
50g ginger, peeled and grated
8 cardamom pods, crushed so the seeds are released
3 large cinnamon sticks, broken inhalf
1 English breakfast tea bag
3 bay leaves
½ tsp black peppercorns
1 whole nutmeg
80g caster sugar
12 egg yolks
80g demerara sugar

For the pastry
310g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
50g caster sugar
190g unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
80ml water
¾ tbsp white-wine vinegar

First make the custard. Put the cream in a large, heavy-based pan and add the ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, tea bag, bay, peppercorns, nutmeg and caster sugar. Bring slowly toaboil and remove from the heat straight away. Leave to cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Heat the oven to 160C/320F/gas mark 2½. Gently reheat the cream, then strain through a fine sieve and discard the spices. Put the egg yolks in a large clean bowl and, whisking the whole time so they don't curdle, slowly pour in the cream. Transfer to a 20cm x 30cm glass dish, and sit this inside a larger baking tray. Fill the baking tray with hot water, so it comes up the sides of the dish, and carefully transfer to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, until just cooked: the middle should be a bit wobbly, but the edges set completely. Lift the dish from its water bath and leave tocool before chilling for about an hour, or until ready to use. Don't worry if a skin forms on top.

For the pastry, put the flour, salt, sugar and butter in a large bowl and, using your hands, mix to a crumb-like consistency. Stir in the water and vinegar until just combined, then rest in the fridge for one hour.

Turn the oven to 170C/335F/gas mark 3. Lightly grease the muffin trays with butter and roll out the dough to 2mm thick. Cut out 10cm diameter circles and use these to line the tray pockets. Put a square of baking parchment in each tart case, fill with baking beans and bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Take out the beans and leave to cool.

To assemble, remove the pastry cases from the tin and fill them withcustard (use a palette knife to even it off). Sprinkle a liberal layer of the demerara sugar on top and caramelise with a blowtorch. Leave for a few minutes, and serve.

Yotam Ottolenghi's custard recipes (2024)


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