Friday, May 4, 2012

Burnt Custard

Although her "Burnt Custard" sounds, well, burned, it is composed of delicious layers of various textures. Sponge cake slices (Savoy Cake) are placed on the bottom of a bowl. A sweetened cream (liquidy custard) of egg yolks, milk and sugar, is poured on top. Then... 

Whipped egg whites are spread over the custard and topped with a thin layer of fine sugar. The sugar is caramelized to a nice crispness by heating up a salamander [illustration below] or old fireplace shovel and holding over the sugar on the egg whites.

Mary Randolph included many marvelous recipes in her cookbook The Virginia Housewife in addition to a sketch of a refrigerator, discussed in the previous posting HERE
Her "Trifle" recipe is similar, except the cake slices are soaked in wine, and the custard is topped with whipped cream, not egg whites. The "Burnt Custard" of Randolph is not like Crème Brulee, except that the top layer of sugar is heated with a salamander or a modern torch.  The Burnt Custard of other authors, such as Rundall, are like Creme Brulee - a solid custard with a heated sugar topping. 

The famed French chef, Francois Massialot (1660-1733) is reputed to be the first to use "Crème Brulee" for this dessert in his book Le Cuisinier Royal et Bourgeois, Paris, 1691. In the edition a couple years before his death, 1731, he used "Crème Anglaise" as the recipe name. In both cases, the dessert was a firm, not liquid like Randolph, custard topped with sugar turned golden brown by a heated fire shovel.

BOIL a quart of milk--and when cold, mix with it the yelks of eight eggs; stir them together over the fire a few minutes; sweeten it to your taste, put some slices of savoy cake in the bottom of a deep dish, and pour on the custard; whip the whites of the eggs to a strong froth, lay it lightly on the top, sift some sugar over it, and hold a salamander over it until it is a light brown; garnish the top with raspberry marmalade, or any kind of preserved fruit.

TAKE twelve fresh eggs, put them in the scale, and balance them with sugar: take out half, and balance the other half with flour; separate the whites from the yelks, whip them up very light, then mix them, and sift in, first sugar, then flour, till both are exhausted; add some grated lemon peel; bake them in paper cases, or little tin moulds. This also makes an excellent pudding, with butter, sugar, and wine, for sauce.
©2012 Patricia Bixler Reber


  1. Yummy! Makes me want to go right home and make some! Thanks!

  2. Some 18th and 19th century cookbook authors suggested buttering (with butter or clarified butter) the cake pans, then shaking fine sugar round the mould before adding the Savoy cake batter. After baking, this adds a crisp sweet ‘crust’ to the sponge cake, which is a delicious surprise when eaten with the custard. Oh, and when eaten alone too! Savoy cakes/biscuits were made in small pans or spread on cookie sheets, and the large Savoy cake was baked in tall fancy moulds/pans.