I don’t know when or how I got into my head that I wanted to make pastry cream, but I did. Probably because it’s summer, and a fruit tart sounds so nice this time of year. Of course, I didn’t actually have the patience to bake a tart crust, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s always a next time, right?
I remember making this once in my short stint in culinary school, and it was fantastic and fun and made for a killer filling. At the same time, I was no less afraid of ending up with scrambled eggs by not mixing everything correctly. So that was my heart-pounding adventure this week 🙂
Pastry cream is actually fairly easy to make, but just beware it’s an active process – you will have to stir constantly and can’t take your eyes off the filling until it’s cooling in your fridge. (Where it will need to set for a couple/few hours.) But then, you can use it in tarts, cupcakes, eclairs, or whatever you want. I have the leftovers sitting in a bowl in the fridge, and will probably just eat it by the spoonful like pudding. That’s pretty much what pastry cream is – a very thick and rich pudding.
I got this recipe from Martha Stewart, so between the two of us you know you’re in good hands. Shall we?
VANILLA PASTRY CREAM – makes about 2.5 cups
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (or one whole vanilla bean with the seeds scraped into the milk)
- a pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Start by getting your yolks into a medium bowl. Ideally they eggs would already be room temperature because it’ll make for easier whipping, and less worrying during the tempering process.
You’ll also want to get an ice bath ready, because once you’re in the thick of it, your hands will be constantly busy. Just make sure it’s a bigger container than the one you’ll be putting the pastry cream into, and fill it 3/4 with ice and water. This will help stop the cooking later on, and cool down the mixture enough to put it into the fridge to set.
In a medium saucepan on the stove, mix together your milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt and bring to a boil. I used a large pan because it had little spouts on either side to make for easier pouring.
Whisk your eggs so that they’re smooth. I learned in that pastry class that the more you whip, the lighter the color of the yolks, and the less eggy they’ll taste in the end.
When your milk is almost at a boil, whisk your cornstarch into the egg mixture to form a paste. You’ll feel, rather than see, the difference. Make sure it’s incorporated smoothly. You don’t want to do this too early because the mixture will start setting, and it will make it harder to stir in the liquid in the next step, which is something you’ll want to be able to do very quickly.
Very slowly, pour your boiling mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the eggs the entire time. You only want to add a bit of the milk at a time, because you don’t want to cook the eggs. This is called tempering. You want to get the eggs warm enough without cooking them that you can fully incorporate them with the boiling liquid. At this phase, you’ll want to pour about half the milk into the eggs. I couldn’t take pictures because both of my hands were occupied – but keep in mind speed and constant motion in your whisking.
Then, return your pan to the stove, and slowly mix the egg mixture into the milk. Bring it back to a boil while whisking constantly. You’ll see that it thickens, and you can (and probably should, though I didn’t) see that the temperature registers 160ºF. (Takes about 2 minutes.)
When it’s ready, remove it from the heat and add in your butter, while still whisking constantly until it’s incorporated.
Then, pour it into a heat-safe bowl and place that bowl into your ice bath. I have a feeling that I let my mixture get too hot, because it was too thick to pass through a strainer to get any lumps out. But what do I know? I just scooped out any lumps or burned bits, from the side of the pan, with a spoon later on.
When the cream was in the ice bath, I spread it out throughout the side of the bowl a bit to get more surface area cooled down more quickly. Once it’s cooled enough to put into your fridge (I’d wait til it’s mostly cooled, you do not want to put warm or hot items in the fridge because it’ll warm everything else in there), congregate the cream in the middle of the bowl, and put plastic wrap over the top. You’ll want it touching the surface of the cream so that a skin doesn’t form over top.
Then, refrigerate and let it chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Before you use it, you’ll want to beat it in the bowl of a mixer to help smooth it out.
I put mine into some pre-baked tart shells that you might recognize from this chocolate cream tartlet recipe. Once I’d smoothed it out in the mixer, it was easy to load into a pastry bag and pipe into the shells.
I then topped them with raspberries and strawberries.
Had I more time, and the inclination, I would have topped them with a dusting of powdered sugar (couldn’t find a clean mesh strainer), or brushed them with some simple syrup. These were so sweet, however, that they didn’t need any additional sugar. And, in my opinion, the raspberries were the winner of the fruit topping choices because the tartness complimented the sweet.
And now that I’m not so afraid to make this anymore, I might make it again to fill some cupcakes, or even experiment with different flavors! And, quite frankly, it’s just great to eat as a straight pudding out of a bowl!
Any tips for making this you’d like to share with me? I’d love to hear them!