Crème Anglaise: Sous-Vide vs. Low Temp

We tend to use a lot of crème anglaise around here, usually as a base for ice cream, and we like to make our crème anglaise sous-vide because it’s a much easier process (see below).  As a follow-up to our post about the effects of vacuum levels on protein texture, we decided to compare our typical sous-vide crème anglaise to a low-temperature-cooked crème anglaise made in a ziploc bag with as much air removed as possible.  We followed the same circulating and chilling procedures for both and then compared the two products.

 The sous-vide crème anglaise won on both taste and texture.  The Ziploc crème anglaise had a more apparent egg taste and aroma than the sous-vide crème anglaise.  It also seemed to have a looser texture to it while the sous-vide version had a smoother, more velvety mouth-feel.

To answer why we cook our crème anglaise sous-vide, we’ve listed out both procedures for you to compare for yourselves.  We could use the traditional labor and supervision-intensive method:

1)      Scald milk & cream with vanilla and set aside
2)      Whisk together yolks & sugar until pale (blanchir)
3)      Temper milk & cream mixture into yolks & sugar
4)      Return to clean pot and heat mixture until the right nappant consistency is achieved, making sure not to scramble the yolks
5)      Strain the crème anglaise
6)      Chill the crème anglaise by stirring it in a bowl over an ice bath

Or we could cook the crème anglaise sous-vide, requiring about 5 minutes actual labor:

1)      Blend all chilled ingredients (milk, crème, vanilla, yolks, sugar, pinch of salt) at once in a Vita Prep (it’s important that all ingredients be as cold as possible in order to suck a better vacuum on the bag, i.e., contents won’t boil as quickly)
2)      Vacuum bag mixture (de-aerating it at the same time) and circulate in a water bath at 82°C for 20 minutes once it comes back up to temperature.
3)      Squeeze bag to agitate the contents while chilling it in an ice bath.

Voilà, easy crème anglaise.  You could prep that a week in advance and just keep it in the fridge.  In fact, we have actually kept a bag for longer just to see; it can last up to a month, but we recommend keeping it under a week.

Joan Roca recommends mashing the bag to agitate the contents, which we faithfully did without question, until one day Dave and Chef Hervé decided to see what would happen if we didn’t.  It turns out that if you don’t agitate the contents before it chills thoroughly, it results in a clumpy crème anglaise. It can easily be fixed after the fact by just stirring it back up, but you might as well just do it when it’s in the bag.  You don’t have to mash the contents in the hot bag and burn your hands (which we also used to do) either.  Instead, you can just dunk it in ice water and mash the bag while submerged, but before it’s cool.

Thomas Keller’s recipe says to put the bag in a circulated bath at 85°C and then drop the temperature down to 82°C. Unfortunately, we’ve known a lot of people who forget to lower the temperature… which means scrambled anglaise. We prefer to drop it in at 82°C and let it ride.

11 thoughts on “Crème Anglaise: Sous-Vide vs. Low Temp

  1. I had read about sous-vide anglaise while I was in France… The doubt now comes from comparing this sous-vide Anglaise to the way Seiji Yamamoto uses…

  2. What happens if you don’t haev a commercial vacuum chamber and only get “most” of the air out using a Foodsaver? Will this still work?

  3. Do you think the difference between the sous-vide version and the Ziploc version was because of the de-aerating the from the vacuum machine? Or do you think the vacuum somehow altered the base in some other way? (or that the ziploc was unable to completely remove the air). For those of us with just a wimpy FoodSaver, I wonder if you could de-aerate the base first in one of the sturdy vacuum canisters before sealing it in a bag? Oh how I wish I had the means to test for myself!

    1. Interesting questions. The next time I teach a sous vide class I’ll try to remember to de-aerate and put one in a ziploc to test. I’ll report back.

  4. I think since its fluid the foodsaver may suck out the creme as well.

    Grant Achatz demoed a sous vide tuerkey at home, he just pushed the air out with his hands and that seemed to do the trick for him.

    What I am wondering with the Anglaise is, what happens with bacteria? I thought to kill those I actually do a quick sear to sous vide meats?

    Will freezing kill them off as well? What happens if I want to do creme brulee?

    1. Anglaise is cooked at a high enough temperature to kill whatever is in the bag (but not to sterilize spores). When we use ziplocs, which we do a lot, we submerge the bag under water so that the displaced air doesn’t want to creep back in. Only the very corner is open and out of the water.

  5. I’m trying to develop a sort of gnocchi of anglaise that is pipped out of a bag onto a sugared surface, brulee’d. However, I’m failing in recognizing the point where anglaise becomes a ‘set’ custard. Have you the time to suggest pointer in the matter?

  6. According to the recipe (Courtesy of PolyScience): 1 vanilla bean, split in half and seeds
    removed, pods and seeds reserved. What do I with the reserved pods & seeds?

    1. Oliver, throw the pods into the bag when you cook the anglaise. Remove them after you cut open the bag.

  7. Doesn’t cooking the creme anglaise at 82 C will make the ice cream base taste eggy? because egg yolks coagulate at 72 C, and heating them to 82 C will give it egginess that we don’t want.
    Now, cooking it at 65 C like in the fat ducks will post a problem too. Cooking eggs at 65 C will not destroy the Salmonella; they must be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F (71°C) which will make it eggy. I’m confused!

    1. Howdy,
      65 C is more than plenty to pasteurize the egg yolks, but they won’t thicken up at those temps in an anglaise base (at least not in a reasonable amount of time). Egg yolks will be just set at 64 C when cooked in the shell. Out of shell yolks appear to set higher. Mixed with sugar, salt, milk and cream they set higher still. 82 won’t produce an eggy taste providing you don’t cook too long. 15 minutes and the anglaise is nappant -20-22 minutes and it is thick. Any longer and the sauce does get eggy, especially if there is air in the bag. Lower temps (like 65 C) will provide the totally clean taste like Sam Mason used to make at WD50 and Tailor, but the base won’t be as thick as a traditional anglaise.
      the 160 F number for pasteurization is for instant pasteurization (like 15 seconds). 65 C is fine when you are cooking for minutes.

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