Patience is a virtue, and other lessons learned from making custard

It was only a matter of time before I would start causing chaos in our new kitchen. It’s the same whenever I’ve moved house, I’m itching to get stuck in and mess with the oven and try and remember where I’ve unpacked everything. 

Last week, I decided to do just that and struck off a whopping three HtE recipes in a single week. Here’s how it went:

Custard

I’d been tasked with decorating the spare bedroom, but one coat of paint and several reams of masking tape later I stepped back to admire my handiwork only to find a blotchy mess looking back at me.

Decorating – well, painting – is something I like the idea of but get frustrated with the slow progress/lack of instant gratification and want to give up.

Once I’d packed in the decorating, I opted to break in the new kitchen by making custard.

The word ‘curdle’ was circling my brain like a flock of vultures before I had even cracked the first egg. This might be because I’ve now transitioned from a gas to a ceramic hob (the last time I used one was about ten years ago, and could only ever get two temperatures; low or inferno).


Erring on the side of caution, I kept the temperature low. This meant that I gazed into the pan, stirring for a good 20 minutes as opposed to the 10 advised in HtE.

Just as the custard thickened, I took it off the heat and plunged it into a sink half filled with icy cold water and beat like mad as the recipe suggested, but this seemed to thin the custard out again and also make it… frothy.

The unexpected frothiness made for a weird texture, but it tasted okay and at least it didn’t curdle.

Hazelnut cake

You might consider this bit cheating as I skipped forward several hundred pages right into the ‘Dinner’ section of HtE. During our move, I sent my parents home with several containers of frozen egg whites along with three chicken carcasses.

“Do you want me to throw these away?” my mum asked.

“No! Definitely not!”

“What do you need carcasses for?” asked my dad.

“To make my own chicken stock.”

My parents exchanged glances and then looked at me, their chicken-hoarding daughter: “NO! NOT MY PRECIOUS CHICKEN CARCASSES!” 

Afrer they’d agreed to store them in their freezer during the move, I then piled on with numerous tubs of frozen egg whites.

Anyway, making custard added a further five egg whites into the freezer and a day or so later, I decided that I really should get them used up. Macaroons, Lange du Chat, Meringues – all suggested in those early pages of the Basics etc. section only called for between two and four egg whites, but I’d hoped to get down to just one container-full.

So, this is why I skipped forward to Hazelnut Cake, which uses up a whopping 8 egg whites.

The method was similar to that of fancy cake (except for the use of egg yolks, which are not required). Having made fancy cake a couple of times before, I felt reasonably confident going in.


Perhaps that’s what made it feel like a reasonably quick cake to make – it was in the oven before I knew it. The biggest issue was with my springform cake tin. For some reason, I draw a complete blank in remembering which way up the base goes.

It’s as though I’m second-guessing myself. I believe it’s one way around and then convince myself that it’s actually the other. And only when it’s too late – on this occasion once the cake was in the oven – that I realise I was actually right the first time and had put the base in upside down.


Anyway, I’d go so far to say that hazelnut cake is fancier than fancy cake – and seemed to go down pretty well with everyone who ate it.

The nuttiness makes it feel rich – almost like chocolate cake, but without the horrible omg-I-shouldn’t-have-eaten-all-that feeling of regret afterwards.

The World’s Best Chocolate Ice-Cream

After custard comes vanilla ice-cream, a recipe that I have skipped. I know, I know, I’m such a cheat. It’s not that I don’t love vanilla ice-cream, it’s just that I’ve already made it a couple of times before (admittedly, not using this recipe).

I have never made chocolate ice cream, and as a certified chocaholic, I couldn’t resist the temptation to give what Nigella claims to be ‘The World’s Best Chocolate Ice Cream’ a go.

This was, by some distance, the trickiest of the lot, even though I managed to channel enough patience to gently heat the custardy ice-cream mixture and not let it curdle (the same cannot be said for the decorating however, which was left in reckless abandon for my long-suffering husband to finish).


In fact, I actually found stirring the mix quite soothing. I didn’t feel frustrated that it wasn’t heating up quicker, I just stared into the creamy white pool in some kind of zen like trance.

Anyway, the trickyness came about by trying to do multiple things at once (which is why I don’t do roast dinners or cooked breakfasts). As  I brought the milk to the boil, I was also melting chocolate and whisking egg whites.


Which reminds me, while the success of the hazelnut cake reduced me down to one tub of frozen egg whites, making chocolate ice-cream bumped it back up again.

This one also tested my stress-levels as I had to make caramel for the first time – a scary-feat for someone like me, not least because caramel goes very quickly from being caramel to burned brown glop permanently adheared to the bottom of the pan.

But to my surprise, I successfully made a smooth caramel without wrecking the pan.


After hypnotically swirling around in the ice-cream maker, it went into the freezer to eat later. I’m not sure it’s the best chocolate ice-cream in the world, but it’s not bad and it goes very well with the hazelnut cake, too.

Main takeaways: patience is easier to master when you’re doing something you care about. I don’t know why it took me so long to realise that.

Decorating is boring.

Frozen egg whites are a constant problem.

In other news, the chicken carcasses are still frozen and taking up a lot of space in my freezer.

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