Egg custard dates back to Roman times and was served in Medieval England when it was known as doucets or darioles. King Henry IV had this dish at his coronation banquet in 1399. Doucets could include meat such as pork mince or beef marrow, but they were always filled with a sweet custard. Sometimes almond milk (an infusion of blanched, ground almonds and either syrup, water, or water and wine) was used instead of cow's milk. Almond milk was a rather expensive alternative, but suited the wealthy whom consumed it on 'fast' days, when rich dairy products were not permitted.
The name 'custard' stems from the old French word for crust (crouste), and the Anglo-Norman 'crustarde', which meant a tart or pie with a crust. Egg Custard is a versatile dish and is used in many dishes ranging from Custard Tarts to Crème Caramel. Cambridge and Norfolk seem to have been aficionados of the Custard Tart in the past and Cambridge Burnt Cream (now more commonly know by the French name of Crème Brulee), is supposed to have originated at one of the colleges at Cambridge University.
I love hot Egg Custard served straight out of the oven and here is a traditional recipe that is easy to make. I use a baking tray filled with water to make a bain-marie to cook the custard in. It stops the top of the Egg Custard going crusty before the insides are cooked. Bains-maire are also called water baths and were originally developed for use in Alchemy to slowly and gently heat materials. Legend has it that the bain-marie (Mary's Bath) is named after Mary the Jewess, an ancient alchemist who was traditionally supposed to have been Miriam, sister of Moses.
1 pint single cream
4 large eggs
3oz castor sugar
Small drop of almond essence
Whisk eggs into the sugar , stir in the cream, add the almond essence and put the mixture into an oven proof dish. Place the dish in a bain-marie or baking tray filled with water and cook slowly until set.
As a special treat why not try this dish with Cremant d'Alsace Josef Pfister (£8.49). It's a traditionally made sparkling wine with a dense, very fine mousse lasting to the very last sip in the glass. It is very fruity on the nose with definite hints of creamy deep fruits such as apricots, plums and the fragrance of lime blossoms . It is light and fresh on the palate and an ideal wine for accompanying an entire meal, from the aperitif to the dessert.
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