Custard (American: Pudding)

That word ‘pudding’ causes a whole heap of confusion to Brits in the USA. Just so as we’re clear, in the USA, the word ‘pudding’ appears to denote what the Brits refer to as custard, which is a pretty specific, vanilla flavored, cornstarch or egg thickened, sweet sauce for serving with apple pie/crumble/trifle or even on its own as a private, pretty gratuitous dessert. For my American friends: the word pudding is another word for dessert in England. I have lived in the States for about 15 years now, and have picked up a good many habits (verbal and physical) from the locals, but I cannot bring myself to think of custard as ‘pudding’!


Trifle topped with home-made, uncolored custard.

Now, if you happen to live in the UK, this recipe is going to be pretty superfluous, since Birds Custard is universally available, even in corner shops and petrol station stores. As someone who doesn’t tend to eat dessert (even saying the word adds another inch to my waist), I can’t say I’ve actually looked for custard here in the USA, but the familiar package does leap out at me when I’m in stores that cater for the local British contingent, so we generally have some in stock. Not always, though! So, if you’re caught short with no commercially prepared custard powder (social faux pas in our household), or you happen to live in some part of the USA which doesn’t have a strong British presence, this could be useful.

The recipe below describes adding boiling milk to the starch and flavorings. Although it sounds illogical, the texture doesn’t seem quite right if you just put all the ingredients in the pan and bring it up to the boil. Adding boiling milk to the corn starch really does seem to be the right way to do this. The type of starch makes quite a difference here, too. I once tried making custard with tapioca starch (because I was out of corn starch), but no-one could get past the gelatinous, mucus-like texture, and I ended up putting it on the compost. Potato starch is just about acceptable, in a pinch.

Bananas and Custard

Bananas and Custard: a favorite from my childhood. This amount of custard (with 2 ripe bananas) is enough for 2 servings. Slice the bananas into 2 individual bowls, pour the custard evenly between the bowls, and chill before eating.

The 4 tbsp of corn starch makes a good, thick custard suitable for trifles as well as serving with pies and steamed puddings. If you prefer your custard to pour more easily, though, reduce to 3 tbsp.

As yet, I don’t use food coloring in my custard. I have tried blending a medium sized, cooked carrot into the mixture, but that produced a subtle pink custard. I know some folks will want to use turmeric, but I haven’t tried that yet, primarily because I’m not bothered by cream colored custard. I’ll update the blog once I’ve tried that.

And lastly, a note about the non-dairy milk: rice milk doesn’t work here. I know this sounds daft, but I just can’t get the custard to thicken using rice milk. I suspect that rice milk boils at a lower temperature than the cornstarch thickens at, whereas almond milk and soy milk work beautifully. The soy milk makes for a very rich sauce, however, so unless I’m making trifle, our preference is for almond milk, or 1/2 soy and 1/2 water. Plain or vanilla flavored work equally well.

16 fl oz non dairy milk (see note, above)
4 tbsp cornstarch
4 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
3 drops yellow food coloring if required
pinch of salt

Put the milk in a stainless steel pan on the stove top to heat.

Put the remaining ingredients in a >1 pint jug, and add just enough of the cold milk (< 1/8 pint) to form a thick liquid when stirred smooth.

When the milk starts boiling hard, pour it swiftly into the jug, stirring vigorously as you do so, while the cornstarch thickens the milk. If necessary, return to the pan to reheat or to finish thickening, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.