Pastry cream is a delicious, sweet, egg-based custard, primarily used as filling for desserts. Uses for pastry cream range from donuts to cakes and pies to pudding.
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 chilling in the refrigerator 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.