Sometimes one of the best part of dessert is the bed of scrumptiousness it is sitting on....raspberry coulis, chocolate sauce, freshly whipped cream, or the coup de grace: creme anglaise. Not too sweet, not too heavy, just a little "oomph" of flavor for your dessert plate.
But you usually only see creme anglaise in restaurants. At home, we tend to plop our cake or tart right on a blank canvas, and it looks a little naked just sitting there without a background. Creme anglaise does a great job dressing up your dessert. Think of it as pants for your cake.
It is easy to make and it goes with just about everything. I like it best with dark, chocolatey desserts. I'm using some tomorrow night with a dark chocolate cake for a friend's birthday.
The recipe makes a lot (2 cups), and you can store it in the refrigerator for about 3 days.
1 whole vanilla bean
2 cups half and half
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Using a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise.
In a 2 quart saucepan over medium heat, combine the half and half with the split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat and set aside.
Remove the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out into the half and half.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. (I use my Kitchenaid mixer for this part). Whisk until the mixture is pale yellow and doubled in volume.
When the egg mixture is done, dribble in some of the hot half and half while whisking slowly. Once about 1/4 cup of the hot liquid has been incorporated, whisk the rest in more rapidly.
Pour the custard back into the saucepan and cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens. DO NOT boil, or the eggs will cook.
Remove the custard from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. Refrigerate for up to several days before serving.
Serve very cold.