Making pastry cream is one of those basics that everyone needs for making all kinds of desserts, from cream puffs to éclairs to tart fillings. Sometimes it’s thinned for a sauce, sometimes folded with whipped cream to make a lighter filling. It’s the all-purpose mixture for filling the pastry case. Bakeries make this stuff by the bucketful; it’s that useful! No, we aren’t going to be making a bucketful; instead, we’ll just scratch up a few cups.
We’re also going to be making a chocolate version, but we’ll let you in on another secret. This recipe is easily modified for vanilla pastry cream, or even coffee pastry cream. And we’ll tell you what to do to make those, too. Think of this as your master recipe for all kinds of pastry cream.
We found this recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking: From my Home to Yours, although we scaled it back in size, mainly because we only had a few eggs in the house.
Makes 2 cups.
If you look at this recipe, you’ll see that it’s nothing more than a thick pudding or custard. That’s it. In fact, you could make this and serve it as a pudding and no one would be the wiser. But, we do have suggestions about how to make this as tasty as possible, and they’re pretty much the standard suggestions that all chefs would give: use the best quality ingredients. Use whole milk, if possible. And eggs from truly free-range hens. And definitely unsalted butter. Who wants salty pastries? We made chocolate pastry cream, and we used Callabaut 70% cacao chocolate, but, regardless of what you add for flavoring, use the best you can.
Procedure in detail:
There’s just one tricky part of making pastry cream, and for that it can help to have an extra pair of hands, but by no means is it essential. We’ll point it out below.
Mise en place. When you’re making pastry cream, you’ll be whisking to beat the band, and that band is playing In-A–Gadda-Da-Vida, so you’ll have no time for a break. Get everything ready. Separate the eggs, measure the ingredients, prepare your flavoring. Trust us on this one.
Boil milk. Put the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, and, stirring often, bring to a boil, not a full out boil, but more like a steamy, simmer boil. Of course, while the milk’s heating, you’ll need to do the next step, too.
Whisk. In a medium saucepan, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, corn starch, and salt. Keep whisking. More. Even more whisking. There, that’s it. The mixture is nice and smooth now, without a single lump in sight (just imagine biting into a lump in your pastry cream; that’ll make you whisk like crazy).
Temper eggs. Here’s the tricky part, where it helps to have an extra pair of hands. If you don’t have four hands, try to enlist some aid, at least the first couple of times you make pastry cream. Once you’ve made it a few times, you’ll seem to grow an extra pair of hands, and be able to do this on your own. So, let’s take a deep breath, start whisking the egg mixture rapidly, and have a helper slowly add 2 tablespoons of the hot milk. Whew! If everything went well, you’ll have a smooth, slightly thinner mixture. If not, you’ll want to pour your pastry cream through a strainer before cooling.
Add milk. Now that the eggs are tempered, you can add the remaining eggs, but do it while you’re whisking, and pour the milk in slowly. That’s it. The tricky part is over. You now have a custard mix.
Cook custard. Still whisking (and humming In-A–Gadda-Da-Vida, possibly), place the custard mixture over medium heat and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a full minute (whisking all the while, natch), then remove from heat.
Add flavoring. Yep, of course, whisk in the flavoring of your choice. We added chocolate, nature’s perfect flavor. You could use one of the other suggestions, if you have to. After all, vanilla is nature’s 2nd-place flavor.
Cool. Not for very long, but let the pastry cream cool for about 5 minutes.
Whisk in butter. For the smoothest, silkiest, pastry cream (and we all want that), whisk in those pieces of butter.
Cool completely. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, press plastic wrap right onto the surface, and place in the refrigerator to cool. To help restore some of the energy you used whisking, you can lick out the pan. Yum!
We have plans for most of this pastry cream, and you should see what they are in the future, but we will tell you that this stuff is out of this world as far as flavor and creaminess are concerned. If you’ve only had commercial pastry cream (think of the stuff that will be in the “pastry case” at the supermarket), we think that you’ll probably fall right over tasting this version. It’s pure, simple, has everything it needs, and nothing it doesn’t. Five stars, without a doubt.