Customizable Custard

The Frenchman is not one for desserts. He enjoys fruit, or yogurt with a spoonful of jam, but that’s generally the limit. Even when he does partake, his catalog is limited: pain au chocolat (which, I might point out, is technically breakfast), crème brûlée, or a square of dark chocolate. His motto is, “If you aren’t still hungry after a meal, why eat dessert?”

Wait, what? Before meeting him, I never considered hunger as the reason to eat dessert.

My incomprehension at Monsieur French Toast’s anti-dessert tendencies aside, most of the time I wish I could magically adopt this part of his personality. Wouldn’t it be lovely to wake up one morning and not care one iota for the perfect chocolate chip cookie: edges caramelized, chewy, insides pillowy and heady with brown butter; a constellation of fleur de sel across the top?

Sadly, this is not the case. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I’m mainlining caramels, but still: after four plus years together, he has yet to convince me that eating an apple is just as pleasurable as a shortbread cookie.


My dessert of choice, if you must know, is anything creamy. Custard, panna cotta, butter frostings–all with equal reverence. However, I’ve never thought to make these desserts at home. I think I was intimidated by the need for gelatin leaves and scalding water bathes. Silly as it may sound, I though these desserts would prove too pesky and onerous to make myself.

But then I read a recipe for Vanilla-Rum Custard from Saveur, and it was dead simple! Like, mix-all-the-ingredients-in-one-bowl simple. Yes, it required a water bath, but that transpired to be as easy as pouring water in a pan.

The best part was being given a base with which to play. I tossed the vanilla and the rum out the window, and got to work messing around with flavors I had around the house.

plain custard

So follow one of my ideas, or invent your own! Stir in booze, jam, extracts, spices, citrus, coffee; top with nuts, chocolate chips, or fruit. If you have a torch, scatter sugar across the top, and turn it into crème brûlée.

This custard is luxurious and rich, and I promise it will make you look like a skilled pastry chef, even though the dessert requires very little work on your part. Serve it in a large dish for a family style meal, or in individual cups, if you’re throwing a fancy party. You should make it ahead, and pull it out of the fridge just before serving.

peanut butter custard with chocolate chips

A note about the dishes: I am claiming a yield of 12, 2-inch ceramic cups, although I only made 11. The casserole dish I used for the water bath only fit 11 cups, although the custard would have happily filled 12.

A note about the categorization: I know these custards aren’t Pies/Tarts, but I thought it was better than sticking them in the Miscellaneous category. Perhaps I need to revisit my recipe organization.

A note about quantity: Saveur doubles the ingredient quantity I list, and notes a serving size of 8-10 portions. Personally, I think a little custard goes a long way. I think one, individual cup is appropriate per person, but you can make up your own mind!

Makes 12, 2-inch ceramic cups or 1, 1.5-quart baking dish 


  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups heavy cream


1. Heat the oven to 300F.

2. Move all the ingredients into a big bowl, and whisk until combined. (Saveur suggests beating the eggs before adding them, but I didn’t feel like washing an extra bowl, so I simply cracked the eggs directly into the cream and then whisked. No one died.)

3. And then….I washed an extra bowl anyway: run the custard through a sieve. (This direction isn’t included in the original recipe, but I think it’s a good idea. It removes any stringy bits from the egg, and will give you a smoother custard.)

4. Move a pot of water onto the range, and bring it to a boil.

custard in water bath

5. Pour the custard into one large dish or into individual cups, and then move it/them to a larger roasting pan or casserole dish. (Saveur suggests placing the roasting pan in the oven, and then pouring in the hot water, but I found it easier to add the water to the pan first, and then carefully move it to the oven.) Either way, you want hot water to come halfway up the side(s) of the custard dish/cups.

6. I baked my 11 cups for 40 minutes, although 35-50 minutes is an acceptable range. You want to cook the custard just long enough so that it’s still a bit wobbly in the center, but well on it’s way to solidified.

7. After taking the custard out of the oven, remove the dish/cups from the water bath. Transfer it/them to the fridge to set and chill, about 1-2 hours. Take the custard out of the fridge about 10 minutes before serving.

Flavoring the Custard: I individualized each cup with the following flavor combinations. Just keep in mind that you don’t want to add too much extra liquid, or the custard won’t set properly. Brûlée Blood Orange, Meyer Lemon, Vanilla Bourbon, and Peanut Butter were my favorites.

Blood Orange Juice, Blood Orange Slivers, Brûlée Top

Blood Orange Juice, Blood Orange Slivers, Brûlée Top Blood Orange Juice, Blood Orange Slivers, Brûlée Top

Blood Orange Juice , Blood Orange zest, Grapefruit Liquor

Blood Orange Custard

Vanilla Bean and Bourbon

Vanilla Bean with Strawberry Jam on Top

Vanilla Bean with Strawberry Jam on Top

Meyer Lemon Juice and Zest

Earl Grey Tea with Crushed Pistachios

Earl Grey Tea with Crushed Pistachios Earl Grey Tea with Crushed Pistachios

Early Grey Tea with Meyer Lemon

Early Grey Tea with Meyer Lemon

Almond Extract and Raspberry Jam

Peanut Butter with Chocolate Chips

Peanut Butter with Chocolate Chips Peanut Butter with Chocolate Chips

Forest Fruit Jam with Vanilla Bean

Plum Jam, Vanilla Bean, and Bourbon

Earl Grey and Pistachio Custard Custards Custards


  1. Nay

    Or, one could stick a candle in each of them et voila a birthday dessert! Hint hint!
    Can’t wait to party on Saturday!

  2. joan

    I haven’t had custard for so long. My Mom made a custard pie with a hint of nutmeg. Delicious.
    I agree with you on the dessert thing!

  3. Suzanne

    The custard is in the oven. I could use some more help with the toppings though or should I just dollop on something sweet that’s room temperature at the time of serving?

    • CristinaSciarra

      If you let me know which flavor of custard you made, I can certainly suggest some toppings!

  4. Daila

    This is just the post I was looking for – after searching unsuccessfully for a Pear Custard recipe. So – that being said – is my only option to put the pears on top of the custard? Is there a way to flavor the actual custard with pear? I thought about pear juice but then saw your caution about not adding too much liquid. Thoughts??

    • CristinaSciarra

      Hm. I might try seeping stewed pears in the custard, and then straining them out before popping the custard into the oven. You also might try boiling down pear juice in a concentrate, and adding that. Or perhaps there is a pear tea you could seep? Good luck!

  5. Alice Weston

    Hi, how did you flavor the earl grey flavored custard? I tried adding concentrated tea but the color is brown not the pretty grey-blue color that you have. Any tips appreciated. Thanks

    • CristinaSciarra

      Hi Alice,

      After step one, I seeped the custard mix with a tea bag (you could also use loose tea leaves and then strain.) The longer you seep the tea, the stronger the flavor will be. Enjoy!

  6. Loanemu

    Major thanks for the blog.Thanks Again. Keep writing.

  7. Judy Coombs

    My adult son is allergic to dairy foods, he makes baked egg custard with coconut milk flavoured and topped with passionfruit, it is excellent.

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