Also know as English Cream or English Sauce. It's the base for vanilla ice cream, too.
This is a cooked sauce - you make it in a pot on the stove - and is thickened only with egg yolks and cream. It can be used, like I said, as a base for vanilla ice cream, and you can also give it other flavors, either by infusing it with nuts, or adding extracts or spices, fruits, etc. It's basically a great launching pad.
Here's how you make the basic sauce:
First, assemble the ingredients -
4 oz whole milk
4 oz heavy cream
2 oz granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
2 1/4 oz egg yolks
vanilla extract - to taste
You will also need the following (and it's best to have everything measured out and in the right bowls, with the right tools, before you begin, as things will happen rather quickly once you get under way):
a sauce pot
a small bowl and a whisk
a rubber spatula
a wooden spoon
a candy thermometer
a medium bowl
a second spatula
an ice water bath (a big bowl with half ice and half water)
a mesh strainer
a third bowl
Okay. Once you've got everything measured out, place the milk, cream, about half the sugar, and the salt in the sauce pot.
Set the pot on a burner but don't turn it on yet.
In the small bowl, put your egg yolks and whisk them together to combine.
The vanilla won't be used until a bit later - set that aside along with the water bath.
Have everything nearby while you are at the stove.
Turn on the burner to medium high and scald the milk mixture (which means to bring it to ALMOST a boil - you want to see little bubbles around the edges of the milk in the pot, but you don't want a rolling boil.
Now shut off the heat.
Have your bowl of egg yolks and sugar next to the stove, with the whisk in one hand. With the other hand, ladle out some of the milk mixture
and - while you whisk the yolks with the first hand, slowly pour the milk mixture into that same bowl with the other hand. Do that once more with another ladle of the milk, still whisking.
Now pour the egg mixture from the bowl into the pot with the rest of the milk and stir continually with the wooden spoon. (Turn the heat back on to about medium.)
(That whole drama was what's referred to as "tempering" the yolks. You're gently and slowly warming them up with a bit of the milk so that they don't become scrambled eggs when you pour them into the pot on the stove. Don't be discouraged if you see little bits of coagulated egg in there - it takes a while to learn to do this perfectly. I haven't made this in ages so I'm very rusty. And besides - that's what the mesh strainer will be for.)
Okay, now it's a good idea now to put the candy thermometer in the pot with the milk mixture now if you haven't already. Another bit of drama when you're making this is that the mixture MUST NOT be heated beyond 180 degrees F. If it does, you've cooked the eggs too much and you might as well fry up some bacon and have breakfast.
So - stir with the spoon and stare unblinkingly at the thermometer. When it gets to 175, go ahead and take it off the stove, as it will keep rising quickly and you might cook it too long. Pour the sauce directly into the medium-sized bowl and place that on the ice bath RIGHT AWAY to stop the cooking process. Stir the sauce with your SECOND spatula to help bring the temperature down as quickly as possible.
(Why two spatulas? No one likes extra dishes to wash! It's because you were using the first spatula to scrape the UNCOOKED egg yolks into the pot, and now you have to use a SECOND spatula because you are working with a COOKED product and you don't want any contact between the raw and the cooked. You know, like you wouldn't place your fully roasted chicken on the same unwashed board you had used for the raw chicken when you were patting it dry with paper towels, would you? I didn't think so.)
Okay, so the mixture has cooled somewhat. At this point, if you feel it needs to be strained, go ahead and strain it into that third bowl I mentioned earlier.
Or a measuring cup like in the picture. (And look at that lovely mess in my sink. I need to frame these shots better.)
And look - this is what might be left in your strainer -
See? Little teeny dots of cooked yolk. Not big at all, but not desirable in your finished sauce. Which should look like this:
And once that's done, add some vanilla, stir it in, and taste the sauce. Need more vanilla? Add some. Once you've got the flavor straightened out, put it back in the ice bath if necessary and keep stirring it until it's completely cooled. Now you can cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need it.
And I'm sure I can come up with a couple of ideas for you.