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Basic Custard

The family recipe, as first written on an index card in Mom's recipe file, then tweaked by my sisters a bit...with Susie's notes

Here is Susie's version, with her notes at the end

2 cups whole milk

2 eggs*
1/3 cup sugar**
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt

Start the oven heating to 350 degrees.

Scald the milk.
While the milk is heating up, whisk together thoroughly the eggs, sugar, and salt.
Also while the milk is heating up, put four custard cups into a shallow pan (9x9", 9x13").
Add the scalded milk to the egg/sugar mixture and whisk thoroughly.
Add vanilla and stir in.
Pour custard mix through a fine sieve into a container with a pour spout.
Pour custard into custard cups.
Sprinkle nutmeg on top of each.
Put pan on middle shelf of preheated oven, then pour into pan (but not into cups) hot water until it comes about one third the way up the side of the cups.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  Remove from oven in the water bath (carefully!) and let cool in the water bath to room temp before removing from the bath and refrigerating until ready to serve.

And Susie's notes:

*I almost always use free range organic eggs, but a couple of batches had the cheaper eggs--that made a big difference in how well it set.  The better eggs gave a much better set, enough so that in a double batch, I'd put in an extra egg if I were using the cheap ones.
**Baker's sugar makes it that tiny bit smoother than regular sugar.
If you put the hot water into the pan before the pan is on the oven rack, it's that much harder to put the pan in the oven without spilling some custard over the side of the cup.  Since I tend to spill, I put the pan on the rack first, then pour in the hot water.  If the water is put in cold, the custard will take a few minutes longer to bake.
I can't think of a reason for putting the vanilla in last, but that's the way Mom always did it and so that's the way I've always done it.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it wouldn't hurt the custard a bit if the vanilla went in with the eggs, sugar, and salt.  Maybe I'll try that with the next batch. 
I added the strainer step myself, years ago, and love the extra smoothness it gives to the custard by getting rid of those little threads of egg that don't mix in completely.  Mom didn't strain it.
I am totally ashamed to admit that it wasn't until I was in my forties that I realized I didn't need the first container to have a good pour spout, since it's only being poured from that one into another one.  The second container does need a good spout or the custard will spill when you pour it into the custard cups.

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