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Custard is a thick, rich, creamy sweet or savory dessert, made mixtures of eggs or egg yolks, milk or cream, flavorings (vanilla, nutmeg, etc.) and optionally, sweeteners (sugar, honey). Basic custards are thickened and set by eggs alone. A small amount of starch such as can be found in some recipes; they contain ingredients such as flour, cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot or potato starch for added thickening power and for adding in for more body, also making them able to endure cooking more foolproof under direct heat.
Custards are prepared in two ways: from gently cooking on the stovetop, called STIRRED or in the oven, known as BAKED. The recipes are then cooled and refrigerated to further gel. Custards can be sweet or savory, and range from being the entire dessert: Cheesecake, Crème Brûlée, Flan, Pudding Cake, Pumpkin or Coconut custard pies or Semifreddo or some types of Ice Cream; to being a part of a dessert: Pastry Cream, used when making éclairs and cream puffs, or Citrus Curd, such as lemon curd, when filling a tart, or folding in with whipped cream for a special cake filling and frosting.
Custards as we know them today date back to the Middle Ages when it was used as a filling for a flan or tart. The word custard is derived from "crustade" which is a tart with a crust. After the 16th century fruit creams became popular and it was about this time that custards were made in individual dishes rather than a filling in a crust.
SARAH SAYS: Puddings are similar to custards and are described in a different section. Mousse is the modern day version of pudding.