Ten china custard cups were listed in the inventory of the pantry taken after George Washington’s death, perhaps part of an order from England he made in 1761. Although custard is not specifically mentioned in Mount Vernon meal descriptions, the presence of such a set indicates that the dessert was frequently served on the Washingtons’ table.
This recipe comes from Mary Kettilby’s A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts in Cookery, Physick, and Surgery, which was first published in 1714, preceding the better-known works of Hannah Glasse by three decades. Glasse appears to have “drawn on” Kettilby’s book. In her preface, Kettilby assured readers that “the Desire of doing Good was the sole Motive that at first engaged [her] in this Work.” It appears she gathered recipes from several sources, although they are not attributed. Five editions of Mary Kettilby’s book were issued—the last one posthumously, in 1734.
4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
8 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons orange-flower water
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
2. Pour the heavy cream into a medium saucepan and scald (bring just below the boiling point) over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it is completely dissolved.
3. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until slightly foamy. Slowly blend about 1/2 cup of the hot-cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the mixture into the hot cream, and stir in the orange-flower water. Set the pan over low heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the custard thickens just enough to coat the back of the spoon. In order to prevent the egg yolks from curdling, do not let the custard boil.
4. Remove the custard from the heat, and divide it among eight 4- to 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Carefully arrange the filled cups in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish. Pour enough boiling water into the dish to come about one-third of the way up the sides of the cups, being careful not to drip any water into the custards.
5. Bake the custards for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centers comes out clean. Remove the custards from the pan, and set on a wire rack to cool completely. Cover each custard with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours, or overnight, before serving.
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