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In order to create scrumptious and inviting baked goods, every aspiring baker needs a well stocked arsenal of tools, tricks, and recipes at their disposal. In my opinion, many of the basic components that baking recipes are are built upon can easily be made from scratch, with fewer ingredients, and for less money than the store bought stuff. All it takes is some planning, a little knowledge, and the willingness to try. Having a few key recipes under your apron strings will make baking a little easier, a lot less daunting, and infinitely more tasty.
Pastry Cream is one of those recipes. What it lacks in attractiveness and photogenic qualities, it more than compensates for with it’s silky texture and versatility. Pastry Cream is perfectly lovely when eaten chilled, as a pudding–it is a custard after all–but it really shines when sandwiched between cake layers, or as a basis for fruity cream pies.
Pastry Cream is totally a baker’s BFF. Try it and you’ll see! In fact, in a day or two, I will share the recipe for this gorgeous little pie. Trust me, Friends. You are going to want dive head first into this pie. I certainly did.
But first! The basics of homemade pastry cream.
A few staple ingredients, and we’re off!
Start by pouring the half & half into a medium saucepan and stirring in the vanilla extract. For an extra vanilla punch, substitute the caviar of one vanilla bean for the extract.
Set the pan over medium heat, and warm to a simmer, stirring periodically to keep the milks in the half & half from scorching. A simmer occurs when the milks are warm enough to produce tiny bubbles around the surface, but not yet boiling.
While waiting for the milks to simmer, separate a few eggs to isolate the yolks. The yolks are the stars of this show. Save the whites for an egg white omelette or meringue or something.
Add the flour, granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt to the egg yolks and vigorously whisk to emulsify everything into one big, fluffy amalgamation.
The egg yolks will lighten significantly in color, and will take on a fuller, satiny appearance.
By this time, the half & half mixture should be simmering nicely. Remove the saucepan from the heat, and slowly drizzle it into the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously to combine them and gently warm (or temper) the eggs.
Once the eggs have been tempered, set the saucepan over medium-low heat to slowly thicken the custard. We’re going for a smooth and creamy pastry cream, so from this point on in the recipe, a slow and even hand is needed. Stirring too enthusiastically or heating the custard too quickly can overdevelop the proteins in the eggs, resulting in a stiff, grossly coagulated custard.
Within two to three minutes, stirring the Pastry Cream will leave a trail on the bottom of the pan for several seconds before filling back in. Remove the pastry cream from the heat, and whisk in the butter until smooth.
To make the pastry cream extra creamy, press it through a mesh strainer set over a bowl.
Place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the pastry cream before parking it in the refrigerator to chill for at least three hours or overnight. Before serving or using in another recipe, remove the plastic wrap, and give the pastry cream a good whisk to smooth out the texture.
You are officially ready to fill cakes or cupcakes, eat with a spoon, or make a fruity cream pie.
Come back tomorrow, and we’ll talk about this pie!
Yield 1 ½ Cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes, Cook Time: 10 minutes, Inactive Prep Time: 3 hours, Total Time: 3 hours 25 minutes
Pastry cream is a luxuriously creamy vanilla custard that is excellent served simply as a pudding or custard, but is even more delightful as base for cream pie recipes, éclair or layer cake fillings.
1 ½ C. Half & Half (or a blend of equal parts heavy cream and whole milk)
4 large egg yolks
Caviar of one vanilla bean (or 2 tsp. vanilla extract)
½ C. granulated sugar
¼ C. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
Pour the Half & Half into a medium saucepan, and sprinkle in the vanilla bean caviar (or extract.) Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Milks should be steaming hot with a ring of small bubbles around the interior of the pan, but not boiling.
While the milks are coming to simmer, whisk the egg yolks, granulated sugar, flour, and salt together in a large bowl, until the yolks have lightened in color and appear fluffy in volume. (About 50 vigorous strokes.)
For the rest of the recipe, a slow and easy hand is required, so as not to over-develop the binders in the eggs; a heavy hand will result in gelatinous custard rather than a smooth pastry cream.
Slowly temper the egg mixture by drizzling the simmering milks mixture into them, whisking continuously, until all of the hot mixture has been incorporated—this will serve as the base for our custard. Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pan before setting it over medium-low heat. As the custard heats, stir slowly with a wooden spoon until it becomes thick and bubbly. (About 2 to 3 minutes.) Cook for 1 more minute after the big bubbles begin, to cook out the floury taste. After such time, a line drawn with the spoon through the bottom of the custard should stay for several seconds before the custards fills it back in.
Remove the custard from the heat, gently whisking in the butter cubes until smooth. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, covering the surface well with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or overnight) until completely chilled.
Before serving or using in another recipe, whisk the pastry cream to smooth out the texture. Pastry cream may be kept tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to three days.