If you have ever spent any time in the UK, you may not have experienced a dessert that didn't have a pitcher of Crème Anglaise (English Cream) on the side. You will also find it in France and other countries, but not as much as in the UK.
The classic recipe is flavored with vanilla, but you can choose other flavors such as almond, orange, lemon, even spices like cinnamon. You can use flavoring extracts, liqueurs, or zests. Purists will use vanilla beans, but I find that vanilla extract works just as well and you may not have to strain off the seeds. You can use heavy cream, half-and-half, whole milk or a mixture of them. The higher the fat content, the richer the sauce.
This recipe is about as simple as it gets. The only caveat is to be careful to mix the hot milk and the egg yolks carefully so that the eggs don't curdle. You can serve it cold, at room temperature or warmed. It goes with almost any dessert. Fruit, pastries, bread pudding, crèpes, you name it.
If you are into making Napoleons or Petit Fours, you can make a classic pastry cream with the addition of cornstarch.
2 Cups Heavy crean, half-and-half, whole milk or a mixture
1-2 Tsps Vanilla extract
5 Egg yolks
1/2 Cup Sugar
Heat the cream and vanilla in a sauce pan, but do not let it boil. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until the mix is pale yellow and forms smooth ribbons.
Take the sauce pan off the heat and stir in the egg mixture a little at a time until fully incorporated. Put the sauce pan back on the heat and heat it to a temperature of 155° to 180° as measured on a candy thermometer, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling or sticking to the bottom of the pan. The higher the temperature, the thicker the sauce, so stop heating when you have reached the consistency that you desire. At this point is is best to stop the cooking process by pouring the sauce into a bowl that is sitting in an ice bath. This may not be necessary, but it does add a bit of insurance in case you have allowed the sauce to overheat.
To make the sauce is as smooth as possible, you can strain it as you pour it into the bowl. This will remove any bits of egg that may have curdled.