“Achieving dairy-free custard which will pass muster in comparison with the real thing is possible. It’s taken me about four years of tweaking to get the recipe right, but now I have something which even sceptical non-dairy-free relations have to admit tastes very much like proper custard. ”

That’s what I said about four years ago. Since then soya milk and cream have come a long way and my recipe has evolved alongside them. So here is the current version for achieving a satisfying bowl of custard.

For those of you with the time, no young children in the family and no pregnant women or elderly people who will be eating your efforts, there is always the ‘real’ option. Yes, it does work dairy free and is no more effort than the original. Sadly it is no less effort either! Therefore, for a day-to-day custard here is how to make scrummy instant custard.

These quantities will make a pint, partly on the “is it possible to have too much custard?” principle and partly because custard tends not to be something you make just for one person (there again, one person, one pint of custard – it’s up to you). I measure out the quantities of liquid in a pint jug , that way getting the proportions right is easy.

Recipe: Custard

Summary: Dairy-free instant custard


  • 2 tbsps (scant tbsps for metric) Bird’s Traditional Custard Powder (seems to taste better than own brands) – NOT the Instant Custard Powder packets as they contain milk.
  • 1½ tbsp (scant tbsps for metric) demerara sugar (MUCH better than granulated sugar)
  • 8 floz (200 mls) Alpro Soya Dream (shake well)
  • 12 floz (300mls) Tesco Own Brand Sweetened Soya Milk
  • 2 tsps ( 1½ tsps for metric) vanilla extract


For anything more than a pint, I use a saucepan on the hob. For anything up to a pint I tend to use the microwave. For small quantities like ¼ pint for the children, I mix it all in the jug and cook it in it: less washing up! Both methods are given here.
Hob Method
I always use a saucepan which is NOT non-stick: that way I can use a spiral/balloon whisk to beat the living daylights out of any incipient lumps! I keep the Soya Milk box by the cooker while I make the custard just in case it decides to go very thick for some unfathomable reason. If it does, I can add a little more milk as soon as it starts without having to stop stirring to fetch the milk box – which can be disastrous.
  1. Measure 8 floz cream into a pint jug then top up to 1 pint with soya milk and add the vanilla extract. Stir well to mix them together. Extract is much nicer than the cheap and nasty flavouring. Lakeland, Waitrose and some Tesco and Sainsbury’s sell a very good one at about £5 for a 118ml bottle. Yes, it’s expensive but it goes on for quite a while as you only use it in small amounts and it doesn’t go off.
  2. Put the custard powder and the sugar in the pan and mix them together thoroughly with a spoon.This is your chance to get rid of most of the lumps in the custard powder. The granular nature of the sugar helps to break them down quite easily.
  3. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of the milk/cream mixture. Don’t be tempted to pour all the milk mixture in at once, as it won’t then blend properly with the custard powder and you’ll struggle to save it.
  4. Swirl the pan without stirring until the custard powder has dissolved and you have no lumps left. You may need to add a little more milk from the jug to achieve a smooth result. Don’t worry if the mixture tries to go solid, it’s just the way the cornflour in the custard powder behaves: adding a small amount more of the milk mixture will solve the problem.
  5. Add the rest of the milk mixture in small quantities. Stir in each addition until smooth before adding any more. Rush this bit and you’ll guarantee lumps.
  6. Put the pan on a low heat and stir constantly with a spoon or whisk. You don’t have to beat it hard right from the start, but you do need to keep it all moving and heat it gently. There are two reasons for this: 1. custard is sugary and therefore has a tendency to stick and burn, so keep it gentle and keep it moving. 2. non-dairy milks are not all totally heat-stable and believe me you don’t want it splitting (lumpy gravy texture crossed with runny scrambled egg! YUK!).
  7. As the custard starts to heat up, increase the vigour of your stirring or whisking. If you choose to whisk throughout you’ll get some froth on the top to which purists may object, but you shouldn’t have lumps. Take your pick: froth or lumps. I know which I prefer! If you opt to start off with a spoon, I would still have a whisk within easy reach for those days when it just decides to go lumpy. If you get in there with a whisk as soon as you notice it starting to lump, then it can easily be saved. Be brave and beat it, but do be careful: the custard will be almost boiling by this time and you don’t want to burn yourself by splashing it on your hands or your front.
  8. When the custard finally boils, check it for thickness and taste it to see if you have added enough vanilla. Adjust according to personal taste. When it has boiled for about 30 seconds to cook out the cornflour in the custard powder, taste again, serve and enjoy.
Microwave Method
For anything under a pint there are two good reasons for using the microwave: it’s quicker and there’s no custard saucepan to wash. Custard comes off glass much more easily than it does off metal.
  1. For this method you will need a large glass bowl. Always opt for a bowl which seems a good bit too big for the job. That way you should avoid the one hazard of making custard in the microwave: a custard volcano! This occurs when your bowl is too small for the boiling volume of the custard and it all erupts and spills out all over the inside of the microwave. Not fun to clean. Not as bad as a porridge volcano…quite…but not good. You have to remember that things expand as they get hot and that hot milk expands a LOT!
  2. Measure your liquids as before in the jug, keeping the proportions the same if you are reducing the quantity. It really isn’t better made with more cream. The flavour isn’t quite as good once you get up to half milk and half cream.
  3. Place the custard powder and sugar in your bowl and mix as before.
  4. Add a little of the milk mixture and swirl as before.
  5. Add the rest of the milk mixture a little at a time, stirring in each addition before adding any more.
  6. Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on high for 1 minute. (If you’re making very small quantities in a jug it’s usually safer to start with 30 seconds)
  7. Remove the bowl and stir well.
  8. Replace and cook for 30 seconds at a time, stirring well between each cooking period.
  9. When the custard looks as though it has boiled, try tasting it. I do this with a cold teaspoon NOT with the spoon you’ve just stirred it with. This isn’t for hygiene reasons particularly, though of course it’s better for that too, but by using a cold teaspoon you stand less chance of burning your tongue and not being able to taste the lovely custard you’ve just made! Adjust the vanilla if necessary and cook for short bursts of 10 or 20 seconds at a time to cook out the cornflour, tasting frequently. Serve and enjoy.

Quick Notes

And there you go: perfect custard! It works very well cold too, for example on trifle. If you do want to use it on trifle, make it thicker than you would for normal use. Add 3 tbsps of custard powder for 1 pint of liquid, and remember to leave it to cool with a greaseproof paper lid sitting right on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming before you can get it on the trifle.

Cooking time (duration): 10

Diet type: dairy free and vegan

Number of servings (yield): 4

Meal type: dessert

Microformatting by hRecipe.

2 comments to Custard

  • Kel


    Unfortunately most Bird’s custard actually contains milk proteins.

    Ingredients from ‘Bird’s’ website
    Sugar, Modified Starch, Whey Powder, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Cream Powder, Milk Proteins, Thickeners (Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Carrageenan), Flavourings, Colours (Beta Carotene, Annatto)

    Only the traditional mixture has no milk in it


  • Atomjack

    You’re right – it’s the Bird’s Traditional Custard Powder that this recipe uses, which is dairy free. By the look of it the “instant custard” products are intended to be made just by adding water, so they add the milk equivalent in the powder itself.

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