The Versatility of Pastry Cream (Custard)

by Caterina Borg, Good Food Gourmet on October 27, 2011

When I attended culinary school, there were a few basic items that we made over and over again. This was not only because we needed to know how to make them on the spot with our eyes closed, but also because these useful products are used in so many different applications.

One of these items is something called pastry cream, which is basically a thickened vanilla cream that is used in fruit tarts, layered in cakes, a delicious filling for éclairs or cream puffs and even baked into swirled brioche rolls filled with raisins or other fresh seasonal fruit such as peaches or apricots. Sometimes it is used as is and other times it is used as a base in other products like diplomat cream and chiboust cream, both of which are lightened with a sweetened whipped cream. The only difference is that diplomat cream also has gelatin in it and is usually used in napoleons.

The recipe I am providing you is very easy to reproduce with great results and since the baking season is just around the corner, I thought I would share it with you because I guarantee that you will find many applications for its use.

Some of the recipes that I have come across compromise on the essential ingredients like heavy cream and yolks, and simply add more cornstarch…but this is definitely NOT the way to go. This will give you a more glue-y and rubbery consistency that is not very appealing. I always use heavy cream and milk and not half and half, although you can use that if you prefer. I find that I get a better texture this way because I can control the amount of actual cream used, which you can’t do in a product like half and half.

A great pastry cream should be silky smooth and have a lovely shiny appearance once the butter has been added at the end.

Vanilla Pastry Cream
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cups sugar
8 yolks
3 level tablespoons cornstarch
½ stick butter cut into pieces, salted (do not add if you are making this into a chocolate pastry cream)
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract (or 1 vanilla pod)

NOTE: **For chocolate pastry cream, add 3/4 – 1 cup of bittersweet chocolate into a bowl (depending on how chocolaty you want it) and strain the custard on top of it so that it melts the chocolate chips. Stir in the chocolate until all of the chips have melted.

First, separate the yolks and add them to a medium sized bowl…

Add the milk and cream (or you can use half and half) to a small sized pot and add the vanilla bean to the mixture. If you are going to use the extract instead, add this to the egg yolks along with the sugar, then whisk well and set aside. Measure out the cornstarch into a small bowl and set that aside also.  Heat the milk/cream mixture until it is scalded and forms a slight skin on the surface.

Take a little of this liquid and add it to the cornstarch to create a thick paste. Temper the rest of the heated mixture into the egg yolk mixture and whisk continually until it is all incorporated. Lastly, add the cornstarch paste and whisk in again. Add this back into the pot and put back on a gentle heat, constantly whisking until it has thickened. Once it has thickened, add the butter pieces and stir well until the butter has melted.

Pass this entire mixture through a sieve into your storage bowl. Cover the entire surface of the cream with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with a little pan spray to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. You can also take a cold stick of butter and tap the entire surface of the cream while it is still warm creating a thin layer of fat on the surface and then cover it with the plastic wrap…whatever you prefer.

Allow this to completely cool at room temperature before placing it in the refrigerator.

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