We’ve already had a recipe for the cream puff choux pastry (where I wrote about my grandmother’s long-standing fondness for them) and another one for chocolate eclairs. Here’s a more detailed cream puff recipe, which also includes instructions for the custard filling.
The custard filling relies on the use of custard powder (or ‘custard flour’ as written below). Cornflour-based custard powder was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird because his wife was allergic to eggs and couldn’t tolerate real custard. Till today, Bird’s brand is perhaps the most popular brand of custard powder in Britain. Besides cornflour, the ingredients in custard powder include salt, flavorings, and annatto or tartrazine coloring.
Do note that both annatto and tartrazine have been known to cause common food reactions. Tartrazine has been in the press recently as one of the substances identified in a recent British study on food additives that can cause hyperactivity in children, while annatto is the only natural food colouring “found to cause as many adverse intolerance reactions as artificial colours and to affect more consumers that artificial colour” (read here). But it’s only very recent scientific research that has revealed these problems.
In the recipe, grandmother specifically noted that Brown & Polson brand of custard powder should be used. This is still available today in India from Unilever Food Solutions Asia (who do Knorr, Lipton, Planta etc. in Singapore, but no Brown & Polson!).
Brown & Polson Custard Powder appears to have a very long history, going by this recipe for savoury custard in the The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant (1861) by Charles Elme Francatelli. Do click on the links to see a digitised version of the original book.
An internet search shows many secondhand and antiquarian book dealers selling a cookbook produced by Brown & Polson entitled, Light Fare Recipes for Corn Flour and Custard Powder Cookery, circa 1930. As I noted earlier, food manufacturers often produced cookbooks as a way of advertising new products and educating consumers how to use them – do have a look at this fascinating digitised archive of Advertising Cookbooks, 1878-1929.
The instructions call for the custard filling to be flavoured with ‘essence’ – I believe this refers to vanilla essence.