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How to Thicken Custard

Updated April 17, 2017

Thick custards are essential additions to many traditional desserts and pastries. It is made from egg yolks, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and occasionally cornstarch. Once mixed together, the liquids must be heated over low heat; if the heat is too high, or the length of time too short, the custard will be runny with a consistency of milk. It should be thick and filling with a consistency closer to that of yoghurt.

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  1. Consider using cornstarch in your recipe. This may help thicken your custard, but also threatens to thicken it to the point of making a pastry cream, which is not the same thing as custard. This is an optional addition and should be added in the beginning to the dry ingredients.

  2. Heat the mixed ingredients in a sauce pan over low heat. The egg proteins will bind to the milk between the temperatures of 65 degrees C and 70 degrees C. Adjust the heat of the hob burner accordingly to ensure the custard stays between these temperatures.

  3. Scald your whole milk according to the recipe prior to adding it to the dry ingredients. This prepares the proteins and is important for the thickening of the custard. Experiment with both ways to see what you prefer.

  4. Stir the custard with the whisk constantly while heating. This ensures that all proteins have available material to bind to and do not stagnate over the heat, which can cause burning or curdling. This also helps to avoid the development of a skin over the custard.

  5. Keep stirring until the custard thickens to a preferred consistency. This will take around 10 to 15 minutes. Use the timer to gauge when it is an appropriate time to pay closer attention to the consistency of the custard. Too little time over heat will result in runny, milky custard.

  6. Remove the custard from heat when it is the correct consistency, or sticking to your whisk. Cover with cling film to prevent a skin from forming and leave to cool on the counter. The custard will thicken further as it cools.

  7. Tip

    Custard takes longer to thicken than usually predicted - have patience.


    Use caution while handling raw eggs.

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Things You'll Need

  • Whisk
  • Sauce pan
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch (optional)
  • Timer
  • Thermometer
  • Cling Film
  • Three cups whole milk

About the Author

Annelies de Groot was first published in 2007. She has contributed to local east coast papers and has worked for environmental and educational nonprofits. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John's College in Maryland.

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