The Great Custard Taste Challenge


My challenge this weekend from my lovely taster friends was to whip up some dairy-free, vegan friendly custard..How?! I hear you cry! Is that even possible?

Well first off, did you know that Bird’s custard powder is completely dairy free? I bet you didn’t – the only vegan I know didn’t either! Bird’s custard powder does not and has never contained egg, or milk powder! All it contains is starch, salt, colouring (Annatto) and flavouring. When you make it you add the milk and sweetner, so you can make it dairy free if you like but using an alternative milk. So that’s all good I guess but frankly I don’t want to be eating articifical colourings and flavourings so I still thought I’d have a go at recreating that custardy yumminess myself and to make it just a little more fun I asked my two official tasters, Colette and Mel, and some special guest star tasters, Rod, Ben, Debs and Sue, to try all the recipes out to see which they liked best.

Top row from left – custard 5, custard 2, custard 4. Bottom Row from left – custard 3, custard 1

So my 5 recipes were:

1. Bird’s custard powder, made following the instructions using Soya milk and unrefined raw sugar.

2. 1 pint soya milk, 3 tbsp unrefined raw sugar, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tbsp cornflour and a little water. The soya milk needs to be heated in a pan with the sugar to just below boiling point, stirring all the time to dissolve the sugar. meanwhile mix the cornflour with a very small amount of cold water to form a paste. Add that to the soya milk and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir all the time. Heat until you get the consistency you want. If you want it thicker add more cornflour.

3. 1 pint soya milk, agar flakes (follow the instructions on the packet for the amount of liquid used, I used 2 tbsps), agave nectar or sweet freedom to taste (about 2 – 3 tbsp but taste as you add!), half the seeds from a vanilla pod.  Heat the soya milk in a pan with the agar flakes stir until the flakes dissolve and bring to a very gentle boil then continue to heat for as long as it takes to dissolve them! Add the agave and vanilla at any time. It won’t set in the pan so it will still appear very runny, but as it cools it will start to get thicker so once the agar is dissolved you can take it off the heat and allow to cool.

4.1 carton of silken tofu (approx 350g or so), 1/3 cup of agave nectar or sweet freedom, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, pinch of salt. Blend all the ingredients together using a wand blender or normal blender. Chill to set.

5. 1 pint almond milk, agave nectar or sweet freedom (to taste – probably about 2 – 3 tbsp), seeds from 1/2 pod of vanilla, 1 tbsp cornflour and a little water. As for number one, heat the milk in a pan with the sugar to just below boiling point and add the agave or sweet freedom – stir to dissolve. Meanwhile mix the cornflour with a very small amount of cold water to form a paste. Add that to the soya milk and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir all the time. Heat until you get the consistency you want. If you want it thicker add more cornflour.

If any of them have lumps (which depending how good your stirring is then then may!) then just pass them through a sieve. They can be served chilled or warm!

Right so what was the verdict?

Debs and Sue braving the taste challenge...

  • Number 1 came in top from all my tasters – Debs said it was perfect and Sue agreed. This was Colette, Rod’s and Ben’s favourite.
  • Number 2  Joint top! Mel said it looked funny but it tasted lovely, Debs would be very happy to have over crumble and Sue said it was fab. Rod and Ben liked this and Colette thought it could be as good as number 1 with a bit more sweetner
  • Number 3  Mel wasn’t keen on this one, Debs said not much taste and Sue didn’t like the texture. Rod liked this one.
  • Number 4  – Everyone thought it was too cinnamony – and generally would be a nice accompaniment to things but wasn’t really a custard (and I agree).
  • Number 5 -  they all said it was ok but not great

So unsurprisingly everyone liked number 1! I think a big part of this is the fact that it “looks” like custard (i.e. fake yellow!) and of course it’s the taste we’re all conditioned to! But I’m pretty chuffed that number 2 came in joint top as it was my attempt to replicate it. In fact it’s not surprising as it’s basically the same ingredients, just without the articifical flavourings and colourings.

Number 5 was probably a bit too almondy but if you like almond milk it’s worth a try. The tofu one is a pretty nice accompaniment for a warm dessert but it’s not a custard really. The agar one was the least successful and I’m not surprised  – it sets too hard and becomes more of a pudding, it’s also hard to work with.

So the winner is soya milk (or whatever milk of your choice), cornflour, unrefined sugar and vanilla!

Top tip – if you hanker for a dairy free crème brûlée you can use this recipe with just a bit more cornflour. Pour into ramekins and leave in the fridge to set! :) Pop a few raspberries or blueberries in before it sets if you want a fruity version, then when you’re ready to eat just remove from the fridge, sprinkly with coconut palm sugar (or unrefined raw sugar) and melt with a blowtorch or under the grill until you get a cripsy topping! :) ta da!