I must admit, I’m not a big fan of baked custard. But stovetop custard is like pudding’s silkier cousin. And it’s much easier to make than you might think! This dairy-free custard recipe does away with the fussy tempering. It’s a simple whisk and go-style that yields the same results delicious as traditional methods, but with less margin for error. You can enjoy it as a simple dessert on its own, or as a component in a more elaborate dessert.
Easy Dairy-Free Custard made on the Stovetop in Minutes!
The recipe is easy, but I’m sure you have a few questions. I’ve done my best to answer any top concerns in this section, and you can find more options in the Notes of the dairy-free custard recipe below.
Wait, Don’t the Eggs Need to Be Tempered?
Tempering is one of those customary things that people get used to doing, and then assume it always needs to be done. Tempering is required when you are adding eggs to hot liquid. You slowly add a little of hot liquid into the eggs, whisking constantly, in attempt to avoid scrambling them (it still happens sometimes!). But this tricky step is only needed when you must heat the liquid in advance for some reason. For example, if you want to infuse vanilla bean into the liquid by simmering it for a little while.
If you’re using vanilla extract or paste, or don’t need a long infusion, you can simply whisk the unheated milk alternative, egg, sugar, starch, and salt together, and then place the pan over the heat. It works perfectly. It’s important to continuously whisk as it heats, but it comes together rather quickly. And believe it or not, heating the eggs and starch together actually helps ensure proper thickening with smooth results.
Isn’t Starch for Pudding?
Technically, traditional custard uses only eggs for thickening, and is either baked to set, or made on the stovetop. The stovetop custard is creme anglaise, and it’s a runnier, pourable custard. Stovetop custard that’s thickened with starch or flour is usually referred to as pastry cream. But for a thicker stovetop custard that you can eat as a stand alone dessert, starch or flour is also needed.
It might not be the most traditional method, but people around the world have been using starch to thicken custard for generations. It isn’t a new or unheard of thing. In fact, Bird’s Custard Powder is basically cornstarch and flavoring. This instant blend was first marketed in England in 1844, and has since become a household name.
Is Egg Required?
Egg does give it the telltale custard taste. If you omit the egg, your dairy-free custard won’t thicken quite as much, and it will taste like vanilla pudding. Not a bad thing, but not like custard. You can use Bird’s custard powder, an English tradition, which is egg-free and vegan. As mentioned above, it’s essentially cornstarch, salt, and custard flavor. If you confuse eggs with dairy, you’re not alone! See this post: Are Eggs Dairy?
Special Diet Notes: Easy Dairy-Free Custard
By ingredients, this recipe is dairy-free / non-dairy, gluten-free, nut-free, peanut-free, optionally soy-free, and vegetarian. You can make it paleo-friendly with the lite coconut milk and with a paleo-friendly sweetener.
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons sugar (increase to 3 tablespoons for a sweet custard)
- 1 tablespoon non-GMO cornstarch
- Pinch salt
- 1 cup cold unsweetened soymilk or lite canned coconut milk
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract, or to taste
- In a saucepan, whisk together the egg, sugar, and salt until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the starch, and about ¼ cup of the milk alternative. Whisk until the starch is dissolved. Whisk in the rest of the milk alternative.
- Place the pan over medium heat, and cook, while whisking, until the mixture begins to steam. Try not to let it boil. Turn the heat down to medium low (or low if needed) and continue whisking or stirring until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 to 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, and whisk in the vanilla extract.
- Let the custard cool for a few minutes and serve, or pour it into a container and cool completely before covering and refrigerating. If you do not let the custard cool to room temperature before covering, it will break the custard down.
Sweetener Options: Simple cane sugar produces the "cleanest" taste. You can substitute another sweetener, like maple syrup or honey, but it does heavily influence the flavor. We have not tested this recipe with a sugar-free substitute. They do tend to perform differently in recipes.
Milk Alternatives: You can use another dairy-free milk beverage, but keep in mind that the results might be thinner, and some brands and types can curdle. I prefer a two-ingredient soymilk (soy and water) with no added thickeners or other ingredients (like WestSoy or Trader Joe's) or a simple lite canned coconut milk.
Starch Options: Cornstarch is ideal for dairy-free custard. But if you need corn-free, you can substitute arrowroot starch. If you prefer to use flour, double the amount - use 2 tablespoons.