You might think that this national food holiday, National Vanilla Custard Day, has already happened. And the less discerning foodies would be (halfway) right: we had something very similar only last month, when it was National Vanilla Ice Cream Day. But there are quite a few differences between custard and ice cream: for one, while ice cream must by definition be a frozen treat, custard can be enjoyed both frozen and just plain chilled, making for a sweet, pudding consistency. Custards, including frozen custard, include a bit of egg yolk into their mix, which differs from the formula used to make ice cream. Vanilla custard has been around in some shape or form since the Middle Ages, when custards were used to fill pie crusts to make tarts. Nowadays, you see vanilla custard filling more often than you think–especially if you stop by Dunkin Donuts in the morning and nom down on a Boston Cream Pie donut. Until I had that little epiphany, I thought that a national food holiday celebrating vanilla custard was a bit overkill, but now? I completely underestimated vanilla custard!
Finding god frozen custard being sold in the city, however, is far more difficult than hopping down to your local Dunkin Donuts for a Boston Cream Pie. The ingredients in ice cream are easier to prepare and use for an extended period of time, so custard is the rarer of the frozen sweet delights. You can still find it, though, in the higher-end ice cream shops and restaurants that stake their reputation on quality plates. One of the best vanilla custards in the city comes from a place that you normally don’t think about when getting frozen sweet treats; on the contrary, it’s usually the hot, savory, meaty items on their menu that has everyone queueing for hours on end. Of course I’m talking about Shake Shack, the local burger joint chain that in the past decade has become one of New York’s favorite places to stand in line and chow down on high quality, reasonably priced grub. I just highlighted them a few days ago for their creamsicle milkshake on National Creamsicle Day, but when you’ve got one of the best frozen vanilla custards in town, you’ve got to flaunt it whenever you can. Shake Shack makes sure you know you’re eating frozen custard and not just plain vanilla ice cream: you can really taste the egg yolk among the fresh vanilla they use in their recipe, and all of the ingredients are fresh and natural, giving it that extra authentic flavor. So when you get in line for your lunch hour (and we mean the whoel hour!), take a few extra seconds and order yourself a cup or cone of the good stuff for this food holiday. You won’t be disappointed!
Madison Square Park, E 23rd St & Madison Ave
“The two clearly superior vanilla custards came from Shake Shack and Kopp’s. Shake Shack was the winner because you could clearly taste the egg yolks and the real vanilla.”–Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Fantastic place for locals and tourists alike. I definitely recommend going on a weekday if you can. Yes, there will be a line, but a much shorter one that won’t leave your stomach hating you for more than 20 minutes. Then, it will absolutely LOVE and adore you for treating it to the Shack’s frozen custard, which can only be described as a magical experience. They usually feature a seasonal flavor, but I can’t resist the original vanilla (with hot caramel if you get the chance). “–Stephanie L.
“I also thoroughly enjoyed the frozen custard. I ordered the half (good size) vanilla with marshmallow sauce and chocolate toffee. They’re very generous with the chocolate toffee and it was very very good with the vanilla. I didn’t taste much of the marshmallow sauce, but I could’ve just been distracted by how good the rest of the custard was.”–Cindy C.
But if you don’t feel like waiting in Shake Shack’s long line for their frozen custard, the regular ol’ vanilla custard might be more to your liking. But for this special occasion, look past the Boston Cream donut at DD and try something wacky, wild, and a million times more flavorful! SCRATCHbread in Brooklyn makes their invention of the sticky bun titled Hot Sticky Mess, which definitely lives up to its name. Instead of being a hot rolled bun with cinnamon and sticky white icing, SCRATCHbread takes their daily fresh-prepared focaccia bread baked with chai spices and chili powder (!!!) I know, I know; focaccia? Chili powder? I thought I said this was their take on a sticky bun! But after the bread is baked, giving it a spicy kick that cinnamon alone could never do, it’s soaked in vanilla bean custard and grilled, like French toast. It makes for a gooey, slightly crispy, warm mess of bread, that SCRATCHbread serves to its customers in a folded paper cup, like you’re getting Belgian fries, but so, so much better. The vanilla custard isn’t just the vehicle to get the focaccia to the grill: it holds its own in this breakfast behemoth, acting as a thicker, creamier icing to the newfangled sticky bun. The whole shabang is topped off with freshly poached blueberries, adding to the mess and the yum. But you must get this for breakfast: SCRATCHbread is all about fresh breads baked daily, so once they’re out of their sticky mess for the day, they are out. Get there before closing time today, which is around 3:00PM. If you’re in Brooklyn on your morning commute, don’t pass up the opportunity to try their Hot Sticky Mess–even if you have to hose down your sticky-fingers keyboard afterwards.
1069 Bedford Ave (between Greene Ave & Clifton Pl), Bedford-Stuyvesant
“I took my first bite out of the aptly named Hot Sticky Mess, made from SCRATCHbread’s focaccia dough baked in a burnt orange caramel with chai spices, chilies, and black pepper. The bread is then soaked in vanilla bean custard and tossed on the griddle. The result is sticky bun meets French toast: sweet, soft, and a little gooey, with a grownup punch of spiciness at the finish. The custard adds an almost brie-like note that had me gleefully reeling, and the cup is topped off with vinegar- and agave-poached blueberries that add warm, juicy bursts of acidity to each bite. Toward the bottom of the cup, I also unearthed some slices of candied orange peel, which made happy little echos of the focaccia glaze and plastered a pretty wide (sticky) smile across my face.”–Serious Eats
“I was happy to finally meet Matthew Tilden of Scratchbread. He has created the Toast Bar at Smorgasburg, where you can order up something incredibly delicious, like the Tomato Dunk in the photo above, a cup of tangy, thick tomato sauce with whole garlic that comes with two pieces of fresh foccaccia for dunking. And we couldn’t not try the Hot Sticky Mess, “griddled chai sticky buns with vanilla bean and cinnamon.” It’s warm, sweet, and sticky, and yeah, it’s messy too.”–Markets of New York
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Chai Caramel Sticky Buns+vanilla+black pepper+ vinegar-ed blueberries= wham bam punch in the mouth giddyness.”–Jess T.
“The gentleman who served us had a real hot tatt and a very helpful vibe. It was my first time and deciding what I wanted was not hard at all. I had the Hot Sticky Mess which is sticky chai buns soaked in custard and grilled….SAY WHAT?? I started eating before my partner in food crime Ava E even had a chance to order….and the moaning and groaning began. It was delicious!”–Quana C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!