I feel most connect to the dessert gods when I’m standing over the stove making Pastry Cream.
Pastry cream is one of my favorite things to make. It was one of the first things I learned to make in pastry school, and it was the first thing that made me want to shout, “I am a pastry goddess!” after making it. I obviously think too highly of myself, but the first time you stir up a batch of irresistibly smooth and vanilla speckled pastry cream you’ll fancy yourself immortal as well.
Pastry nerd alert! Pastry cream is a classic French custard. Custards become custards by cooking eggs over low heat until they set. Technically pastry cream is a stirred custard, which means it’s cooked while being stirred on a stove top rather than baked in the oven like a crème brûlée.
Pastry cream is literally set apart by how it sets. The cream has to boil in order to thicken, but boiling eggs usually results in a curdled mess. The addition of starch (flour, cornstarch, or a combination of the two) allows the the pastry cream to boil without curdling. Resulting in a thick yet smooth pastry cream.
Despite the miracle of cornstarch (it flies solo in my recipe), pastry cream can still curdle if it’s not cooked properly. Here’s how to avoid that.
Only add the cornstarch and sugar to the egg yolks when the milk is just about boiling. Sugar can cause eggs to clump, and we want smooth, smooth pastry cream. Once the eggs are on the stove (this of course will make more sense once you read the recipe) keep the heat low to medium low and stir, stir, stir! Low heat and constant stirring will keep the cream from scorching.
Last note, take the pastry cream off the heat when the cream has thickened, is boiling, and the bubbles of the boil pop in the same place. I know that sounds weird. It’s an intermittent boil, and the thickness of the cream causes the boiling to stay stuck in the same place. You get me? If not or if you have any other questions leave them in comments.
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 Tbs. cornstarch
- 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- In a medium pot over medium heat combine the milk and the first amount of sugar. Still until the sugar melts, and allow milk to scald.
- While that heats, whisk together cornstarch and the remaining sugar. As the milk starts to steam, combine the cornstarch and sugar to the egg yolks. Whisk vigorously until smooth.
- When the milk is nearly boiling, temper it with the yolks.
- Return the mixture to the stove and cook over medium-low heat. Whisk continuously for about 5 minutes as the cream thickens.
- Remove from the heat, and stir in butter and vanilla until homogeneous.
- Pour pastry cream into a casserole dish or sheet pan. Immediately cover with plastic wrap (with the wrap touching the cream) and allow to cool on the counter or if it’s a particularly warm day, in the refrigerator.
- Store in an air tight container for up to a week.