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!


35 thoughts on “The Great Custard Taste Challenge

  1. Pingback: Almost “healthy” Sticky Toffee Pudding | Pure and Simple Bakes

      • I made a million mistakes because I have never made custard. I used number two and the paste instantly clumped when I added it. I must not have used enough water. I like it for fruit but bc of the color I don’t know if I should use it on a strawberry tart. Thanks for your efforts! Everyone make sure you use enough water for your cornstarch paste!

      • Yeah, you have to make sure you add the cornflour to cold water to start with, and that you have enough! So glad you had a go though and thanks for letting me know how you got on 🙂

  2. My comment concerns not the recipes…which look good…but one ingredient.
    Agave “nectar”…likely one of the worst things you can put into your body!
    Completely unnatural and more chemically refined than white sugar…95 to 100% fructose.
    High fructose corn sugar is only 55% fructose.
    You want a diabetic in your family? Feed them agave “nectar”.

    • Hey there

      Interesting that you raise this actually. I wrote an article a while back at (after posting these recipes) about Agave and came to similar conclusions. In fact I think I’ll re-post that article here so people can make up their own minds. I tend to use sweet freedom now if I’m using a non-honey liquid sweetner. Some agave is as low as 60% fructose but of course it’s not regulated so you don’t know. Sweet freedom is only 23%. The problem is availability I think and some people do prefer Agave… I’ll blog my article again here. Thanks for bringing this up

      Nancy 🙂

  3. I was excited to find your post as I need to find vegan custard in a hurry. Unfortunately, it turns out that Bird’s custard is not vegan. Whey powder, which is made from milk, is one of the top ingredients. I’m not sure if they’ve changed their recipe since you posted this, but it’s definitely not vegan.

    • Hey there

      I think you might be looking at the packets of Bird’s instant custard – that has whey protein in it. The tins of bird’s custard powder doesn’t 🙂 It just has: Cornflour, Salt, Colour (Annatto), Flavouring (according to the side of the tin and their website 🙂 ). So it should be fine. If you’re worried though you can use the other recipes 🙂

      Let me know how you get on 🙂

      • hmmm think I’d better send them an email to find out then 🙂 thanks for letting me know 🙂
        I hope one of the other recipes works for you in the meantime 🙂

    • hello again 🙂
      I went in to waitrose today and the round tin of Bird’s custard powder doesn’t have any whey powder listed at all. I’m going to send them an email to find out -I wonder if they’ve changed the recipe and some of the stock is old? The instant custard does have it in though.. I’ll let you know when I get a reply 🙂

  4. Thank you for doing the taste tests. I am making a vanilla bean “custard” for a client from coconut milk. You have given me some excellent guidance.

  5. For the colour try adding a bit of turmeric. It is possible to get it looking custard-like without affecting the flavour.

  6. Hi there. I hope you don’t mind but I popped a link to this post in my recent post on rhubarb crumble. If you would like the link removed, just let me know. But I hope not! Lots of my readers are vegan and I always like to have good vegan links for them to pursue. This post seems very comprehensive.

  7. I’m not sure why the author of this post makes such bold assertions that Bird’s Custard Powder is and has always been vegan. A brief look at the product’s ingredient list clearly shows it contains Whey Powder, Cream Powder, and Milk Proteins – all of which are NOT VEGAN.

    I’ve listed the product’s ingredients below, as well as a link to the product’s web site where the information can be found.

    Sugar, Modified Starch, Whey Powder, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Cream Powder, Milk Proteins, Thickeners (Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Carrageenan), Flavourings, Colours (Beta Carotene, Annatto)

  8. I made a variation of recipe number two that turned out great! I used coconut milk instead of soy milk which made it really rich and sumptuous, and then once it had thickened, off the heat, I added the juice of one small carrot. Once stirred in, the drops of juice made it a lovely eggy creamy yellow colour — it really looked like traditional egg custard! I juiced the carrot by grating it on my microplane fine grater onto a cheesecloth/muslin cloth and squeezing it out. I was so pleased with how it turned out, so wanted to recommend this method for anyone wanting to warm up the colour of their vegan custard! And thanks to the author for testing out the recipes above!

  9. Who would’ve thunk it (could be done)! Much thanks for the tip! We’ve included it in our recipe for a delicious Irish apple cake that’s both vegan and vegetarian hospitable -

  10. I found from my attempts that oat milk is really good for making custard. I’m not but my partner is dairy free so I thought I’d try and make a custard so we could both have it, I found that the oat milk was the closet tastewise to “normal” custard.

    After multiple attempts and finding the perfect one, I find out they don’t like custard

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