Because of its incredible versatility even though an easy baked egg custard by itself is one of the most delicious things in the world and is, for that reason alone, something that every serious cook really should master, it also an essential component in a myriad of dishes, both savoury and sweet.
A basic egg custard forms the foundation of crème Brule, flan, and crème caramel, and hundreds of variations on those desserts that are found around the world.
Custard also forms the base for quiche and callouts, and is an essential ingredient in dishes as disparate as English trifle and South African bootee.
Other dishes owe their existence to egg custards for example Chinese egg tarts, steamed egg custard, Spanish custard, custard slices.
When thickened with starch, usually wheat flour but often cornstarch as well, egg custard is known as pastry cream (crème patisserie in French) and is the familiar filling classically used in cream puffs, éclairs, and Napoleons (mille-Feuille).
When made as a thin sauce the consistency of heavy cream, it is called crème anglaise and is used in floating island, frozen custard, so-called “French vanilla” ice cream, and as a sauce for fruit, cakes, and pies.
Every classically trained pastry chef in the world carries these recipes around in their heads at all times – or at least the basic ratios.
Combine all the ingredients except the nutmeg in a mixing bowl and stir with a whisk just until combined.
Vigorous or prolonged mixing will cause air bubbles to form in the custard.
Pour the mixture into a baking dish or individual custard cups and top each with a grating of fresh nutmeg.
Bake in a preheated 300F (150C) for about one hour, until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. The custard should still be “jiggly” in the centre – it will firm up after it cools.
Serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 6.