Crème Anglaise – A Classic Dessert Sauce

BY HELEN S. FLETCHER, ON
COPYRIGHT, HELEN S. FLETCHER, 2017. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
ALL PHOTOS BY PASTRIES LIKE A PRO UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED.

Finished 2

Well, Crème Anglaise has certainly been an interesting trip through the internet as well as books (remember those?).  While everyone seems to agree that this “English Cream” or custard sauce contains some kind of cream or milk, egg yolks, sugar and flavoring – no one seems to agree on the amounts.

Custards, including crème brulee are nothing more than variations of the amount of ingredients used in crème anglaise.  While custards are baked in an oven with a water bath to prevent curdling, crème anglaise is referred to as a stirred custard and is cooked on top of the stove.  A water bath may be used here also to prevent overcooking.

The sauce is generally thickened with egg yolks only.   It is important whenever using egg yolks alone as a thickener, not to overcook them or they will curdle.  Some suggest, If your sauce does curdle, pour it immediately into a blender or food processor and process it to bring the silky texture back.  When I had the bakery and would make Crème Anglaise for clients, I would add a bit of flour with the sugar and egg yolks.  This would assist them when reheating, so ideally they would not break the sauce.

There is a standard test used to determine if the sauce is done.  A spoon is dipped into the sauce and then a finger is run through it on the back of the spoon.  If the sauce does not go back together the sauce is done.Creme Anglaise doneness test

Crème Anglaise can be used as a not too sweet sauce cutting the sweetness of cakes and tarts as well as being the perfect foil for fruit.  It also serves as the basis for ice cream, it can be thickened with some kind of starch to become pastry cream, as well as the base for Bavarian cream into which gelatin,  whipped cream and fruit purees are added which may be served in a glass or molded into a dessert.  It is also used in one of England’s most famous desserts, the Trifle.

While Crème Anglaise is most often flavored with vanilla or vanilla beans, it can be infinitely varied.  Add chocolate for chocolate crème anglaise, coffee, orange, spices and different flavored liqueurs are only some of the ways it can be flavored.   See the variations below.

Before starting to make the crème anglaise, you can prepare a cold water bath to prevent it from over cooking.  Get a large bowl and put some ice in it.  Add cold water to cover the ice.  Place an empty bowl in the water with a fine meshed strainer in it.  Set it aside.

For my Crème Anglaise, I use half and half for a smooth consistency and richness of taste.  Whole milk may also be used, but I would not go to less than whole milk or the flavor will definitely suffer.  There is a technique used here for tempering the egg yolks which keeps them from curdling when a hot liquid is added to them.  The cream or milk is scalded which is just before simmering.  You will be able to see steam coming off it, but no bubbles.  The egg yolks are whisked with the sugar just before adding the cream .  If they are whisked too far in advance and held, the sugar and the water in the egg yolks combine and the mixture is no longer smooth.   It becomes a mass of little blobs which loses its usefulness.  This is often referred to as the sugar “cooking” the egg yolks.

The cream is whisked in very slowly in the beginning to get the yolks used to the heat.  It can be added faster once the yolks have become heated and mixed with enough cream to avoid the dreaded, curdling.

At this point it is put over direct heat or over a double boiler, whichever you are most comfortable with and cooked until it begins to thicken and a spoon dipped in the sauce stays separated when a finger is run through it.

The sauce is immediately strained into the bowl in the ice water to remove any possible lumps and insure the smoothest of sauces.  This will stop any carry over cooking that could curdle the sauce.  Strain the sauce into a clean bowl, cover the surface with film and allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.  While the sauce is usually served cold, it may be served room temperature or even warm.

If you choose to rewarm it, do it very carefully and get it just warm, not hot.

The amount of sugar can be varied depending upon what it is being served with.  It can cut the richness of a cake or tart or be the perfect foil for a rich chocolate dessert.  As you can see, Crème Anglaise has many uses and is a component of many desserts.

As long as the sauce does not get too hot, these four ingredients create one of the easiest of sauces to make.

Crème AnglaiseIngedients 2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar (65 to 100 grams or 2 to 3 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon vanilla – Tahitian if possible or the seeds from one vanilla bean pod.

Heat the cream to the scalding point.  Set aside.

Whisk the yolks and sugar together in a saucepan. Egg Yolks in panSugar in eggsYolks and sugar whiskedSlowly add the cream, whisking to mix well.  Cream inAll whisked togetherCook over low to medium heat until the sauce thickens Cooked Creme Anglaiseand stays separated when a finger is run through it on the back of a spoon.

Immediately strain the sauce Sauce being strainedand add the vanilla.Vanilla inIn ice bath

Variations
Orange Crème Anglaise Orange Creme AnglaisePare the rind from one large orange being careful not to take the bitter,white pith underneath.

Orange Rinds

Left, rind with pith. Right rind with no pith

Add to the cream.Orange Rind in creamHeat to scalding, remove from the burner and cover directly with film.Cream with filmLet sit for 30 minutes.  Reheat the cream and continue with the ingredients  above, leaving the rind in the cream.  Stirring the sauceStrain the rind out of the creme anglaise.  StrainingSubstitute 1 teaspoon vanilla for the amount called for in the sauce above.  Orange Almond Crème Anglaise:  Make as called for in the Orange Crème Anglaise, substituting 1 teaspoon almond extract for the vanilla.  Lemon Crème Anglaise:  Substitute the rind from 2 lemons for the orange rind.

Chocolate Crème Anglaise Chocolate Creme Anglaise Add 3 to 4 ounces of bittersweet or semisweet chocolate to the sauce when it has been strained.  Whisk gently to combine.

Liqueur flavored Crème Anglaise – Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of flavored liqueur, rum, brandy, etc. to the finished sauce.

Spiced Crème Anglaise – Whole cinnamon sticks or cloves may be added to the cream and steeped for about 15 minutes before being used.  Other spices may be used in powdered form to to taste.  However, the cold sauce will need more spice to obtain the same flavor as when it is warm.  Spices may be used in conjunction with any flavored sauce.

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Pastry has not only been my profession, but my passion. If there is anything in particular you would like to see or any questions about baking or pastry, please let me know. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss a post.

8 thoughts on “Crème Anglaise – A Classic Dessert Sauce

  1. manisha

    Hi Helen. Baking is going well. I have baked so many recipes of yours with great success! Thanks. Looking forward to the recipe.

  2. Mari gold

    Where do you find Tahitian vanilla. I sometimes got it from vinney, but need to buy some. Trader joes used to carry it, but not now. I’m in fla. If that helps.thanks much

      1. Mari gold

        Thank you, those are my sources too. I’d like to buy commercially. Do you do anything for Passover?

        1. hfletcher Post author

          At the shop we sold a lot of Ultimate Chocolate Fudge Cakes which is a really superb flourless chocolate cake. I could post that for passover. It is so easy it is ridiculous. If you don’t want to use the glaze, dust it with powdered sugar just before serving. Thanks for the inquiry. I will change the line up and post it next week for you.

          Also, thank you for the question on Tahatian vanilla. I posted a note on the Interesting Stuff section so others might be able to find it also.

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