Masala Chai Custard

For complicated reasons I have been making a lot of custards lately. A friend asked for the recipe, so I’m typing it up here.

Custards fall broadly into two categories: stirred custards, and baked custards. Baked custards are in some sense easier and more reliable, taking less attention but more equipment and fuss. Because I’m very very lazy, I prefer to make stirred custards, which require more focus while making them but use fewer dishes and equipment in the kitchen. This recipe makes 5 nicely sized custards, or 6 smaller ones, depending on how you divide it.

EQUIPMENT

A medium to large saucepan A large mixing bowl A candy (or other very reliable) thermometer A whisk 5 or 6 ramekins A stove

INGREDIENTS

2 cups milk, half and half, or a mix of the two, minus liquid added for flavorings (see below) 4 eggs Sugar to taste. Less is more. This recipe uses 14 cup of white or demerara sugar. Flavoring. For this recipe, make a concentrated masala tea (see below)

If you want to try alternative flavorings for other custards, I’d say lemon is a good place to start - shave the peel from two lemons and add it at the right time (see below) in place of the masala tea.

METHOD

Make your concentrated masala tea - about half a cup - from a strong malty tea like assam (Irish Breakfast bags will do if you don’t have loose tea), and a tea masala mix. If you want to make your own tea masala spices from scratch you can grind black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and whatever else you like. Because I am lazy my process is to go to the local indian store and buy the first premade dry tea masala spice mix my eyes fall upon. You want to make about a half cup of liquid, using an amount of tea and spice mix appropriate for an entire pot.

Put your milk or milk/half and half mix in the saucepan. Attach the candy thermometer to the side of the saucepan, immersed in the milk. I say “milk or half and half” because you can adjust these to your desired fat content, and also because using a higher fat liquid will give you more margin for error if working with materials that would curdle the milk (like citrus fruits). For a typical custard with no curdling ingredients I’ll use 1 12 cups of milk and 12 cup of half and half. For this custard, because I’m adding liquid, I used 1 cup of milk, 12 cup of half and half, and then the masala liquid for the rest. Add your concentrated masala tea liquid to the milk. Ignore your milk for now but keep one eye on the candy thermometer; you’ll need it below around 120° F for the next step.

Break 4 eggs into your large mixing bowl. Add sugar, and whisk vigorously. You’re not trying to do anything special here, just get it all well combined.

When your milk reaches about 120°F, take a small amount of the warm milk (14 cup or less) and drizzle it into the egg/sugar mixture while whisking. This tempers the eggs so they are less likely to curdle. I’ll usually do this 2 or 3 times as the milk heats. Then slowly pour the tempered egg mixture into the still-heating milk while whisking vigorously.

A NOTE ON BAIN-MARIES

They’re annoying and I don’t use them. Common wisdom is they heat the mixture more slowly so you have more margin for error. This is probably true, but the extra setup time and dishwashing isn’t worth it to me.

BACK TO THE METHOD

Continue to heat the milk (on very low), stirring constantly. As the temperature on your thermometer approaches 170 degrees, stir more vigorously, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan. As your temperature crests 160 and especially 170 you will feel the mixture begin to thicken.

“By the book,” a custard starts thickening at 160°F, should be fully ready to cool at 170°F, and will be curdling into scrambled egg at anything over 175°F. With my candy thermometer, I don’t feel real thickening until around 175°F, and i don’t hit scrambled eggs until 185°F. This could be because of the method I’m using, or it could just mean that my candy thermometer sucks. Experiment on your own and let me know how it works out; you could try pouring out ramekins at different temperatures and see how they turn out.

When I reach whatever temperature I’m aiming for (in my case, just a hair under 180°F), I pour the mixture straight into ramekins and put them in the freezer, refrigerator, or, if it’s cold enough, straight outside. Freezing them will result in a different texture than refrigerating. Experiment and find out which textures you like (I’ll usually do several of each). Enjoy!