Dede Wilson

co-founder of

Pastry Cream

This creamy, smooth rich pastry cream is a classic feature in many European desserts. Variations abound: those using whole eggs, some with just yolks, some with a combination thereof. The dairy component can also range from milk to cream to a middle ground of half and half. None are “better” than another; they are just different. The texture can also range between stiff enough to slice, to a creamy texture that barely holds its shape. I have provided you with a Firm Pastry Cream, which I like to use in tarts, cakes and mille-feuille type desserts where it holds its shape, and a Rich Pastry Cream, which I prefer in pastries such as éclairs, where the shape and texture of the pate a choux holds in the extra rich and creamy filling. You will find uses for both in your dessert repertoire. If you have a saucier pan, which has a very rounded bottom, you will be best able to whisk the custard without any scorching.

 
Both make about 2 cups

 
Firm Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk

1/2 vanilla bean

2 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Pinch salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces

 
Rich Pastry Cream

1 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 vanilla bean

3 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

Pinch salt

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces

 
Place milk or milk and cream in a medium saucepan and scrape in vanilla bean seeds. Add vanilla bean to pot as well. Bring to a boil, remove from heat and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Discard bean.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs (or yolks), sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heatproof bowl until very smooth. For Rich Pastry Cream, the mixture will be very thick and will need extra whisking; set aside. Reheat milk if it has become tepid.

Drizzle about 1/4 of the warm milk or milk/cream mixture over the egg mixture, whisking gently. Add remaining warm milk (or milk/cream) and whisk to combine. Immediately pour mixture back into saucepan, and cook over a low-medium heat until it begins to simmer and bubbles appear. Whisk constantly to prevent scorching, cooking for about 1 minute. The pastry cream should be thick enough to mound when dropped from a spoon, but still satiny. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract and butter.

Allow pastry cream to cool; stir occasionally to release heat. When almost at room temperature, scrape into airtight container, press plastic wrap to the surface, snap on cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate up to 3 days.

Liqueur Variation: To either Pastry Cream, 2 tablespoons of liqueur, such as Cointreau, rum, eau-de-vie, Kahlua or liqueur of your choice, may be gently stirred into pastry cream during the cooling phase at the end of the recipe.

Tip: All pastry creams are very perishable. By stirring occasionally while cooling to release heat, you will cool it down most effectively, and you will be able to get it into the refrigerator more quickly. However, the firmness of the pastry cream is setting up during cooling as well, so stir very gently. My approach is to make one gentle rotation of a wooden spoon a couple of times during cooling, nothing more.