Originally closer to a custard than a sauce, anglaise sauce, more commonly called creme anglaise, is a sweet dessert sauce thickened with egg yolks. Creme anglaise has an off-white color and a silky smooth texture from being strained before serving to remove any traces of cooked egg yolk. You can flavor the sauce to change its color or taste; thin it to the consistency you want; serve it hot or cold; and spoon it either in, around or over other desserts.
A Rich History
While the concept of using eggs to thicken cream dates back to at least ancient Rome, the phrase comes from the French phrase for English cream. The recipe for creme anglaise appeared in the dessert section, not the sauce section, of the iconic Escoffier cookbook in 1903, where author Auguste Escoffier refers to the sauce as a custard. Escoffier suggested infusing the milk for the sauce with a vanilla pod, or zest from an orange or lime.
Careful Cooking Required
Made with either half-and-half or whole milk, creme anglaise begins with the liquids heated until just below boiling. After that, you whisk in beaten egg yolks to the heated milk slowly, and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. The trick is to gently cook the eggs without them curdling or cooking so quickly they form curds. Once the sauce thickens, strain it into a bowl placed in an ice water bath.
Over, Under, Around and Inside
Creme aglaise appears in a few iconic desserts, and is versatile enough for you to use anytime you want a rich, smooth sauce over pound cake, ice cream or fruit. In floating islands, the sauce creates a pool underneath meringue mounds. In the Australian dessert classic Pavlova, with fruit and whipped cream piled into a meringue shell, the sauce goes both under and over the dessert. It's also sometimes used in an English trifle, layered with fruit, cake, jam and whipped cream.
Creme anglaise presents a blank canvas for virtually any flavorings you might want. For intense flavor, add a few teaspoons of liqueur for coffee, raspberry or apricot flavor, or few drops of orange or peppermint extract. You can also use liquors such as bourbon, brandy or cognac. For more subtle flavors, add a sprinkle of cinnamon or cardamom. Or for a chocolate sauce far richer than normal, add a few tablespoons of melted dark or milk chocolate.
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