Meg Johnston’s Caramel Custard

Having savaged the "muscovado creme caramel" which we served in hicce, reviewed in today's Tom Eats! I thought I would share with you the recipe from the lady who made this dish better than anyone. My mum.

I've never cooked it, as it's not a pud that I much care for, but I have seen dozens of people - mostly men, for some reason - drool over this version. This is reproduced almost verbatim from the cookbook which she wrote for me nearly 50 years ago, The Mammy's Cookbook. alternatively The Mammy's Thesis; University of Life. I say almost verbatim. In the early 1970s a certain N word was used to describe a certain shade of brown. I can't bring myself to repeat it here.  I don't think she had a racist bone in her body.

Meg Johnston

Remember that when she refers to vanilla, she means vanilla extract. I don't think a vanilla pod had been espied in a shop in Scotland by then.

You can always redo the caramel if it goes off the fandango, but the finger crossing is no use when it comes to the custard. The moment of truth is there for all to see when you serve it. Is there, isn’t there, a smooth, custard with not one tiny air hole in it, or is it all pitted, disfigured and cracked? The suspense! The drama! Coming shortly.

Anyhow, in a small, deep strong bottomed pot, 4 tablespoons water, 4 tablespoons white sugar. Bring to the boil – for ages it will fool you and stay clear and bubbling. Suddenly – just like that – it will take on colour. Never leave it – and just when it’s a shade between tan and N whip it off the stove and into a soufflé (1½ - 2 pint) dish which has been rinsed with cold water. It will splatter and hiss at you, but you then twirl the dish on its axis and get the caramel coating the dish at least halfway up the side.

Leave. Oven at just over 200˚F (100˚C). Warm 1 pint (568ml) milk, sugar, vanilla.  In a jug beat four eggs. Add milk – beat, taste, slightly over vanilla and over sugar. Strain through the chinois onto the caramelised dish. Important because there’s a little nasty bit of any egg we can well do without, and it gets trapped in the chinois.  Put the dish in a flat tin containing water. Leave in oven for hours. 2 to 3 wouldn’t be too long. Stick a skewer in – comes out clean when it’s ready. Leave till absolutely cool. Get a large platter, hold your breath, slip a sharp knife around the edges of the custard the thoroughly. Think about it, do it again. Over the sink put platter business side down over the top of soufflé dish. Quickly turn dish upside down – sharp tap – custard should glug, and a caramel custard with not one crack should repose on platter, surrounded by brown caramel sauce.

Achievement takes years of practice, but keep trying!


  1. Robert Corrigan on 30th June 2023 at 7:55 pm

    I first made these in 1972 at the Stakis Hotel in Milngavie. The Burnbrae Hotel. We made them for the sweet trolley. The receipt was 30 eggs to a gallon of whole milk, granulated sugar ( white not specific enough)
    Vanilla essence ( made in a laboratory) is definitely what your dear mum would have used as we did in those days. And sugar to taste.

    Camel as you say. However when we reached the desired colour, we removed from the heat and added a tiny spot of cold water to avoid it continuing to brown.
    (A cloth was placed over our hands and jacket sleeve to protect from boiling hot caramel burning us.

    Temperature is key to achieving an even smooth result exactly as your photograph.

    • Tom Johnston on 1st July 2023 at 10:34 am

      No, I’m fairly sure it was extract she used. She used to sneer at the cheaper lab made stuff which bore no resemblance to proper vanilla. BTW, did you know that vanilla is an orchid?

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