Friday, April 5, 2013

Foodie Faves: Pyrex Custard Cups
What's cooking? Creamy Vanilla Custard

When I was a child – long before I became the Kitchen Goddess – two of the few things my mother would allow me to make in the kitchen were Jell-O® and Jell-O Instant Pudding. I thought it was magic: powder plus liquid equals dessert. Frankly, I also thought it was cooking. And I couldn’t imagine eating it out of anything but those Pyrex® 6-ounce glass custard cups.

I don’t think I had any Pyrex cups of my own until I had children, when they were the best things I could find to hold baby food. (The cups, not the children.) Since that time, I’ve discovered how wonderfully useful those little dishes are for a truly vast number of tasks. Storage, baking, microwaving, heating up small servings, but mostly for assembling my mise en place. Chop the parsley and put it into one of the cups. Measure out the curry powder, and put it in a cup. Mince the garlic, get the idea. Then assemble all those little cups next to the skillet, and you won’t find yourself burning the onions as you scream, “OMG – how much garlic?!”

Pyrex glass cookware first appeared in 1915, so I must be at least the third generation of women in my family to use it. The dishes, a product of Corning Glass Works, were immediately popular for their ability to withstand thermal shock – e.g., fast and extreme temperature changes, like moving from freezer to oven, without breaking. The secret was the company’s development of a borosilicate glass, made by heating silica sand and boric acid, that melts at a higher temperature than normal glass. For the first time ever, home cooks could bake, serve, freeze, and reheat food in the same container. World Kitchen, the current manufacturer of Pyrex kitchenware, claims the products show up in 80% of American homes today.

Sadly, in the 1950s, Corning switched to a less expensive process that used soda-lime glass, and, according to, the U.S.-made containers are no longer as heat resistant.

There’s really no glass that’s completely impervious to breaking while hot. However, you can minimize the chances with a few obvious precautions:

■ Scratches can reduce the heat resistance of a piece, so place them on soft mats or kitchen towels instead of a hard countertop to avoid damaging the glass.
■ Don’t press your luck by placing pieces on direct heat such as stove tops.
■ Don’t subject the dishes to radical temperature changes. Let them come to room temperature before moving them from freezer to hot oven or vice versa.
■ Handle dishes with a dry pot holder.

Back in the Kitchen Goddess’s lair, it seemed like a really good idea to accompany a text about custard cups with a recipe for, well, custard. This one is adapted from Gourmet, March 2005, and from the first bite delivers a luxuriously eggy, creamy vanilla flavor. The ultimate comfort food. My friend, Deb, who cheered me on throughout this endeavor, could only say, “Mmmm.” And after licking the bowl, the spoon, and the whisk, we both decided the taste and texture are even better with chilling. It’s not as easy as the Jell-O version, but really...

Kitchen Goddess notes: 
■ I highly recommend working with a candy thermometer, versus guessing at when the texture has reached that “thick enough” stage. And the next time I make this, I plan to use a smaller (1½ -quart) saucepan, which allows the thermometer to really stick into the cooking custard. With my 3-quart saucepan, the thermometer barely penetrated the liquid.

■ If for whatever reason you get some lumps at the end of the stovetop stage, do not panic. Just push the stuff through a fine sieve before adding the butter and vanilla.

■ The Kitchen Goddess uses Mexican vanilla, which is generally regarded as having an extra spiciness over traditional Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. She shops for it at Penzey’s, but many other grocery stores carry it.

I know, this is not a Pyrex cup. Give me a break.

Creamy Vanilla Custard

Makes 6 half-cup servings.

3 cups whole milk
8 large egg yolks
⅓ cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened and cut into quarters
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional: freshly grated nutmeg as garnish

In a heavy saucepan (1½ quart), heat the milk over medium heat until hot but not boiling.

Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt until smooth and pale yellow in color.

Continue whisking while you slowly add 1 cup of the hot milk to the egg mixture. Once that is incorporated, add the rest of the hot milk while continuing to whisk.

Transfer the liquid to a clean saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over medium-low heat until the mixture reaches 170º on the thermometer, or it achieves a custard-y thickness (8-10 minutes). Do not let the mixture boil.

Remove from heat and stir in the butter (one piece at a time) and vanilla. Pour custard into serving cups and top with grated nutmeg. Chill custard, covered, until cold and thickened. Some sources recommend covering the custard surface with wax paper to keep a skin from forming, but I did not and had no problem.


  1. I have a glass pyrex custard cup question:
    I have a wonderful old recipe for popovers that calls for using greased glass custard cups to then be set into a metal muffin tin then put into a cold oven at 425 for 40 minutes. I have made these for years and sometimes the popovers have stuck a bit to the glass custard cups and mostly they pop right out perfectly and are usually very large and lovely. Recently however they have been sticking terribly to the glass cups even thought they have been well greased with butter!! do you have any suggestions or reasons for this???? Thank you so much.Linda

    1. Hi, Linda -- I can't imagine why popovers would suddenly start sticking. I notice that Ina Garten also recommends using Pyrex if you don't have an official popover pan, and she just says to butter them. I think you should call the Pyrex folks -- that's what I'd do. Here's the number from their website: 1 (800) 999-3436. Good luck!