I love sharing good tips and recipes when someone shares them with me, and this is one of them.
Perfecting Pastry Cream
Pastry creme, or crème pâtissière, is a lusciously rich, pudding-like vanilla filling that you can use to create any number of gorgeous stuffed desserts. You might be familiar with pastry cream from some of the following uses:
- Filled donuts
- Cream puffs and eclairs
- Smooth-as-silk cake fillings
- Buttercream icing bases
- Ice cream bases
- Souffle bases
- Tart fillings
- Fruit parfaits
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that difficult to make. What trips up some folks is that you must heat the pastry cream and then quickly cool it in a bowl of ice, but once you’ve followed the recipe through a few times, you might be surprised how quickly it comes together. There is a little elbow grease involved, though; to get
Why should you bother learning this recipe when you can just as easily swap crème pâtissière with store-bought vanilla pudding? First of all, the stuff you make at home will be leagues ahead of any mix you buy in a box. And second, pastry cream is one of those elements that once you master it, you’ll have a whole slough of fancy desserts at your fingertips.
Preparation and Expectations
Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature.
To complete this recipe, you will need a large bowl filled with ice and water. This will quickly cool the pastry cream while you whip it so that it is the proper texture.
For this recipe, you’ll be mixing cornstarch with water to make a slurry. Slurries are important concept when it comes to making sauces and creams. I encourage you to read up on them and learn more, if you’re interested.
A heavy-bottomed saucepan is ideal for heating sauces and creams, as they protect your fragile ingredients from the crazy heat of the burner. A regular pot will work in a pinch, but I highly recommend that you pick up a solid heavy-bottom saucepan if you can — it will make a huge difference in your cooking overall.
Use a balloon whisk for stirring/whisking pastry cream. The many wires in the whisk will help prevent lumps and aerate the finished product.
While I personally believe that the flavor of a vanilla bean is much more pure, you can easily replace the vanilla bean with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
You can refrigerate pastry cream for up to three days, making sure to seal it well so that it doesn’t pick up strange flavors in your fridge.
Important: This recipe requires you to add hot liquid to room temperature eggs. In order to do this effectively, you’ll need to temper the eggs first. This means very slowly adding hot liquid to the eggs while whisking them them constantly to prevent scrambling. The goal is to slowly bring them up to temperature; if you just dump your hot liquid into the eggs, they will scramble (literally). This isn’t nearly as harrowing as it sounds, I promise! All you have to do is slowly drizzle in your warm cream while whisking. Notice that I’ve italicized the word “slowly” for emphasis. 😉
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups of milk, divided
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise down the middle
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- A few cups of cold water
- A few cups of ice
- 6 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup of butter, at room temperature (1/2 a stick)
- Combine heavy cream with 1 cup of milk in a medium saucepan (reserve the remaining 1/2 cup of milk). Using a butter knife, scrape the tiny seeds out of the vanilla bean and add them to the cream mixture, tossing the scraped pod in as well.
- Bring the cream to just a simmer, then remove from heat and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Fish out spent vanilla pod and discard.
- Combine sugar and egg yolks in a medium-sized heatproof bowl and whisk vigorously for 30 seconds to ensure the sugar is dissolved.
- Halfway fill a large bowl with cold water and add a few handfuls of ice to make sure the water is very cold. Keep more ice handy in case what you’ve added to the bowl melts.
- In a cup, combine cornstarch with the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, stirring with a fork until cornstarch is completely dispersed. Make sure there are no lumps along the bottom of the cup, hiding anywhere in the corners, lest you end up with lumps in your pastry cream.
- Place the saucepan containing the cream mixture over a medium heat. Again bring the cream just to a simmer, making sure not to bring it to a full boil. Once you see bubbles begin to form around the edges of the saucepan and a fair amount of steam beginning to rise from the cream’s surface, remove it from the heat.
- Slowly pour the hot cream into the sugar and egg yolks, whisking constantly. The goal here is to add the hot cream slowly enough that the eggs don’t scramble, so pour in a little bit at a time and whisk well before you add some more. If you’ve got another person handy, have them pour the hot cream in a slow, thin stream while you whisk.
- Pour the cream and eggs back into the saucepan and stir in the cornstarch slurry, then resume constant stirring over medium heat until the mixture is very thick. Set the base of the saucepan in your bowl of ice-cold water (add more ice to the water if you have to) and stir quickly until the cream has cooled somewhat but still retains some heat, about one minute.
- Add the butter and stir until the butter is completely mixed in and you’ve got a smooth cream. Scoop into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the wrap against the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Seal and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Pastry Cream Tips and Tricks
There aren’t any real “tricks” when it comes to making pastry cream, since it’s a pretty straightforward recipe. Now that you’ve got a bowl of this wonderful filling, what should you do with it? Besides the simple delight of dropping a spoonful into a bowl and topping it with fruit and whipped cream, there are all sorts of things you can create now.
Pastry cream makes a lovely filling for cakes without being overly sweet, and can fill any number of pastries, pies, or tarts with aplomb. Really, it’s the ultimate multi-use element. Once you’ve mastered this particular recipe, you can easily whip up a lovely dessert with almost no effort.