Basic Baked Custard Recipe – An Easy, Comforting Dessert with Many Options

Basic Baked Custard
Basic Baked Custard Recipe – An Easy, Comforting Dessert with Many Options

A simple custard, baked in ramekins, is one of those recipes that every cook should have in their arsenal. It isn’t at all hard to make, but there are a few ways you can go wrong that leave you with grainy bowls of scrambled eggs instead of the silky-smooth result you are looking for. Follow the method below and you’ll feel like a custard master in no time.

Speaking of ramekins, I’ve got a few favorites. The blue ones you see in the picture are these lovely, if pricey ones from Emily Henry. But I also like traditional custard cups, and recently I’ve been using and loving a set like this that has covers. This makes them doubly useful as prep bowls that can also go in the refrigerator.

The key steps to smooth custard are:

  1. Thoroughly strain the base before baking. Here’s a great trick I learned from Dave (@cookingissues) Arnold: if you are going to strain something first through a coarse and then fine strainer, just nest them rather than pouring back and forth. Smacked my head when I heard that.
  2. Use a hot water bath surrounding the ramekins to moderate the temperature.
  3. Don’t overbake them.

The basic custard recipe below is quite lean, because it uses only whole milk and whole eggs. For a richer custard, replace up to 2/3rds of the milk with heavy cream. For an eggier and also richer taste, use 10 egg yolks instead of 8 whole eggs. The reason I often use whole milk and whole eggs is that I like this to be more of an “everyday”, grandmotherly type dessert (in fact, my wife’s Noni is legendary for hers), and also I find that when I separate eggs I don’t end up using the whites. But there is plenty to be said for the rich version!

Now as to flavoring: I’ve used vanilla extract below, but you have my wholehearted endorsement if you want to scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean instead, and infuse the pod while the milk is heating as well. Or skip the vanilla, and flavor the base with espresso or  fresh ginger, or rosewater, or lemongrass or bay leaf or citrus zest or herbs or … whatever strikes your fancy! If you choose a flavoring agent that isn’t a liquid, you’ll want to turn off the heat on the stovetop and let it steep for awhile, tasting occasionally until it is sufficiently strong.

This version is maybe just a hair on the sweet side. If you like it a little less-so, back off 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Finally, there is the matter of mix-ins and toppings. I’m in the less-is-more camp, because the texture of a good custard is so smooth that I don’t want to fight with it. I hear of people mixing in chopped up peppermint candy or nuts, for example, and that doesn’t appeal to me. Of course, you can make the rich version of the custard, scatter sugar on it, hit it with a blowtorch and you have creme brulee. Noni favors a dusting of cinnamon. For an ultimate treat, a drizzle of BLiS Bourbon-Barrel Maple Syrup is incredible.

Basic Baked Custard Recipe
Gluten-free
Makes 8 servings

Special equipment: 8 oven-proof ramekins / custard cups

  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Bring a kettle of water to a boil Set the ramekins in a baking dish.
  2. In a bowl that can hold 3 quarts, thoroughly whisk the eggs.
  3. In a pot that can hold 3 quarts, whisk together the milk, sugar, vanilla and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until the milk is approaching a simmer. Remove from the heat.
  4. While whisking the eggs continuously, drizzle in the milk. Go slowly at first to avoid cooking the eggs, then once about half of the milk has been incorporated, you can go faster.
  5. Strain the custard through a coarse strainer and then your finest strainer to catch any bits of egg.
  6. Ladle the custard into the ramekins and put the baking dish in the oven. Pull the rack part way out and pour the boiling water around the ramekins until it comes about halfway up their sides.
  7. Bake until just barely set, about 20 minutes. A toothpick should come out nearly clean, but there should still be a visible jiggle if you move the pan. Err on the side of undercooking them. Remove the ramekins carefully to a cooling rack. I usually do this using tongs, but you have to be careful not to drop one back in the pan of hot water and splash yourself!
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, July 30th, 2012 in Desserts, Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes.

19 Responses to “Basic Baked Custard Recipe – An Easy, Comforting Dessert with Many Options”

  1. July 30, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Michael, thank you so much for supporting the sale. We appreciate it!

  2. July 30, 2012 at 6:38 am #

    Michael, this is a favorite dessert of my family and I make it often. In fact, I go a step further and make “Leche Flan” with a caramelized topping. Have you ever tried making egg custard with coconut cream? It is divine ! I urge you to play around with c.c. in your custard ~ it will give your dessert an added dimension. Thanks for this recipe!

    • July 30, 2012 at 8:38 am #

      Hey Betty Ann – I’m all for the caramelized toppings; I’ve eaten coconut custards but as far as I can remember, I haven’t made one. Process is basically the same, right?

  3. Emma
    July 30, 2012 at 8:32 am #

    LOVE the custard cups with lids! I’ve been making my own kinugoshi (soft-silken) tofu from Andrea Nguyen’s excellent “Asian Tofu,” but storage has been a pain in the butt because of the necessity of plastic wrap. Thanks! And in a custard recipe, no less.

    Checking out the online bake sale forthwith.

    • July 30, 2012 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks, Emma! And yes, Andrea’s tofu book is fantastic.

  4. July 30, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Hi Michael, yes process will be the same. Only thing to change in your recipe will probably be instead of 4 cups whole milk, try using 3 cups whole milk + 1 cup coconut milk (canned). The bake the same way you would on your recipe. Hope that helps!

  5. July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

    Custard cups would be a perfect desert right now here in Florida.

  6. Emma
    July 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm #

    Michael, the combo of your book and Andrea’s is dynamite! I got them for my birthday in June and I think the only other cookbook I’ve used since is the one from my CSA when I got a giant share of summer squash and didn’t know what to do with it.

  7. Chandra
    August 5, 2012 at 5:33 am #

    If one wanted to make a pie rather than individual servings, would it be necessary to do anything differently?

    • August 5, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Do you mean a custard pie in a crust, or just baking all of the custard in one large dish? (Like this: link to herbivoracious.com). If the former, I’ve never done it. If the latter, the main adjustment is baking time. You want to go until there it is beginning to looks set, but there is still a little jiggle.

      • Sam
        November 21, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

        For an easy custard pie you would pre bake the crust. Then instead of cooking the custard in the oven you cook it on the stove top constanly stiring untill thick. Coll in frig with plastic wrap over the top then spoon into baked crust. You can pour it in a raw crust and bake it but you will want to keep an eye on the crust because like pumpkin it can get over done.

  8. Dini
    November 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Question for Betty Ann:

    In your version you say 4 cups milk and one cup canned coconut milk. Michael’s recipe calls for 6 1/2 cups milk so would that actually be 5 1/2 cups milk and the one cup of coconut milk? I’ve never attempted a flan before so just want to make sure before I give it a try. I love coconut milk so want to try that version. Thanks.

    • November 8, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

      Hey Dini –

      Betty Ann’s recipe was meant to be an alternative to the one at the top of this post, which calls for 4 cups of milk – which she says to do with 3 cups milk and 1 cup coconut milk, so no change in volume there. (I think you may have jumped over to the flan recipe which uses 6 1/2 cups milk.)

  9. April 19, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    I love reading your blog and your recipes. Thanks for writing such a detailed article on making custard. Do you also have a recipe for making custard without eggs? Also, do you have any recommendations for strainers (especially the fine one?)

    Thanks.

    • April 20, 2013 at 6:51 am #

      Hi Vidya – here are two custard-like desserts that don’t use any eggs:

      link to herbivoracious.com
      link to herbivoracious.com

      If you want to spend the big bucks on a really great fine-mesh strainer, this one works very well: link to amazon.com
      Otherwise there are many fine mesh strainers on the market, but I don’t have a specific brand recommendation for you. The tricky part is to find one that truly has a fine screen.

      • April 20, 2013 at 11:33 am #

        Thanks, Michael, for the other recipes and the recommendations on the fine mesh strainer.

  10. Julia
    January 23, 2014 at 11:58 am #

    Hi Michael, I am making this recipe as I type, I only had 4 small ramekins and 2 slightly larger ones, the timer has just gone off at 20 minutes and they were definitely not set :( so I went another 5, still not done! This is my second ever Attempt at making custard. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong but I’m afraid ill never get it right, haha. I’m letting it go another ten minutes, then cooling on a rack as you say. Hope it works!!

    • January 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      The egg ratio in these is pretty much bulletproof, so my best guesses are that your oven temperature is off, or you aren’t trusting them to finish setting as they cool.

  11. Mirandamom
    March 3, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Thank you! For the first time ever my custard set properly! I halved the recipe and it baked perfectly in a toaster oven. It tastes just the way my mother’s did.

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