Fruit Custard

As desserts go, they can be fairly healthy, especially if you use low-fat milk and add plenty of fruit.

At my neighborhood Indian restaurant I was curious about the dessert of the day – fruit custard. It turned out to be a cool, refreshing pudding with diced fresh mango. The dessert was delicious but seemed more like a Europeanstyle pudding than an Indian sweet.
I asked Indian acquaintances and they assured me that fruit custard is an Indian specialty. The cook at the restaurant told me that he makes the dessert from milk and custard powder, which is a blend of cornstarch and sugar, often with vanilla and food coloring. The product was first formulated by Alfred Bird in the 1800s because his wife was allergic to eggs, which are a component of classic European custards.
When I realized that the Indian custard is eggless, I understood why it is so popular as an Indian dessert, and why I had often seen tins of custard powder in Indian grocery stores. Eggs are avoided by many people in India, who make their desserts and even their batter-coated foods without them. The primary difference between the Indian and the European custards is the presence or absence of eggs.
Many Indian home cooks also use custard powder, which is sometimes called flan powder. The closest substitute is vanilla pudding powder, but many prefer to simply mix cornstarch, sugar and vanilla.
Desserts of this type are called firni, and I enjoyed them also in Afghan and Pakistani restaurants.
Cookbook author Neelam Batra explained that Indian cooks often use powdered rice to thicken custards without using eggs. To give the custard a subtle aroma, some cooks grind their own basmati rice to make the rice flour.
Custard powder usually has yellow coloring. To simulate an egg custard’s golden hue, some people add a pinch of turmeric or a little annato to their eggless dessert. To color his fruit firni yellow, Jack Santa Maria, author of Indian Sweet Cookery, adds saffron, a popular flavoring for Indian desserts, and dissolves it in hot milk. Other cooks in India, like those in Europe, flavor their custard with vanilla.
These custards are easy to make and, except for the fruit, resemble American vanilla pudding as well as Middle Eastern mallabi. As desserts go, they can be fairly healthy, especially if you use low-fat milk and add plenty of fruit. To make them parve, substitute nondairy milk, such as soy milk or rice milk. For a luscious result, use whipping cream instead of part of the milk or substitute coconut milk.
You can make fruit custard using egg-enriched European formulas. To keep the taste of the fruit fresh, always add it to the completely cooled custard.
Adjust the amount of sugar in the custards according to the fruit’s sweetness.
This custard is made in the Indian style with no eggs. Instead of the cornstarch, you can use cream of rice powder used for making hot cereal.
Indian cooks use a great variety of diced fruit in their fruit custard. I’ve had it with peaches, mangoes and even canned mixed fruit. Sliced bananas, diced oranges, pineapple, berries and halved grapes are frequent choices, and so is dried fruit. Some add diced apples and don’t mind their crunchy texture in the smooth pudding.
From the chefs of Zensoy, makers of soy puddings, I learned to add banana puree, which adds not only flavor and sweetness to the custard but rich texture as well. In this custard, if you prefer a uniform texture and color, puree the mangoes instead of dicing them.
If you are adding poached or canned fruit, you can substitute a little of the poaching liquid for part of the milk.
Nuts are a beloved Indian addition, especially cashews. If you add them, choose unsalted ones. Some people also add cubes of firmly set jello, for an additional element of refreshing texture.
6 Tbsp. cornstarch 3 cups milk 4 to 6 Tbsp. sugar, to taste 50 gr. butter, cut in cubes (optional) 1 to 2 tsp. vanilla sugar or pure vanilla extract 2 mangoes, peeled and diced 1 or 2 Tbsp. chopped unsalted cashews (optional)
Mix the cornstarch with 1⁄2 cup of the cold milk to a smooth paste.
Heat the remaining milk with the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium- high heat, stirring, until the mixture comes just to a boil. Stir the cornstarch mixture again until smooth. Add it to the hot milk, stirring constantly. Return mixture to a boil, stirring constantly and quickly. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 1 minute, stirring, or until pudding is thick. Remove from the heat.
Let pudding cool for a minute or two, and, if you like, add the cubes of butter. Stir in vanilla. Mix well and let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Stir in diced mango.
Spoon into dessert dishes and refrigerate.
Serve cold, garnished with chopped cashews.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
To peel the peaches for this European- style custard, cook them for 1 minute in a pan of boiling water to cover, and then transfer them briefly to a bowl of cold water; peel with a paring knife. If you don’t mind the skin, leave the peaches unpeeled. You can substitute nectarines, which don’t need peeling.
For a tasty variation, make peach cinnamon custard, substituting 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon for the vanilla.
4 cups milk 2 eggs 2 egg yolks 1⁄2 cup sugar 7 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 30 gr. butter (optional) 2 to 4 tsp. vanilla sugar or 2 to 3 tsp.pure vanilla extract 2 cups peeled diced peaches or nectarines, plus 1 additional peach for serving
Heat milk in a heavy saucepan until it comes to a boil.
Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a heavy bowl, using a whisk or hand mixer, until the mixture is smooth and its color lightens. Add the flour and mix well until smooth. Gradually whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture.
Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the pudding comes just to a boil. To avoid scrambling the eggs, do not use high heat.
Remove from the heat, pour immediately into a bowl and stir for 1 minute.
Add the butter and mix well. Let cool and stir in the vanilla, followed by the peaches.
Cover and refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Serve cold.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
This rich, English-style custard is made with both cream and milk. Very little cornstarch is needed, as the chocolate helps to thicken the dessert.
If your market has fresh cherries, you can use 1 to 2 cups halved pitted cherries instead of or in addition to the bananas. For an especially festive dessert, spoon lightly sweetened whipped cream on the custard at serving time and top it with a bit of grated chocolate, as well as a few banana slices.
225 gr. semisweet chocolate, chopped 1 cup milk 1 Tbsp. cornstarch 11⁄2 cups whipping cream 2 large eggs 2 large egg yolks 3 Tbsp. sugar, or to taste 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (optional) 2 or 3 bananas
Melt chocolate in 1⁄2 cup milk in a medium bowl set above a pan of nearly simmering water over low heat.
Stir until smooth. Remove from water; let cool.
Mix cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of milk in a small cup until dissolved.
Heat cream with remaining milk in a heavy medium saucepan until bubbles form around edge of pan. Whisk eggs and yolks in a medium bowl. Add sugar; whisk until blended. Whisk in dissolved cornstarch. Gradually whisk in hot cream mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly and reaches 70º on an instantread or candy thermometer. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir 1 minute.
Let cool, stirring occasionally. Whisk in chocolate mixture, followed by vanilla.
Cover and refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours or overnight.
Up to a few hours before serving, stir custard. Slice 1 or 2 bananas and mix slices gently into custard. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
At serving time slice another banana. Serve custard garnished with banana slices.
Makes 4 servings.
Faye Levy is the author of Fresh from France: Dessert Creations and ‘Sefer Hakinuhim’ (the book of desserts), published by R. Sirkis.