So if you know me, especially if you are related to me, you know that I am not a fan of feeling as if something got the better of me. I hate feeling that, if I had just worked a little harder or tried one more time, then maybe I could be more successful. Some might call it competitive – others just plain stubborn – but either way, pastry cream put me to the test. I tried to make vanilla pastry cream a little while ago to fill some cinnamon churro cream puffs. We brought to our friends house for a dinner one night. The flavor was delicious – the texture was not. It was super runny and never quite set up (I was ever so slightly embarrassed.) So I picked a new recipe to try this time and I was determined that this would be WAY better. Whelp…. nope… my first batch turned out almost exactly the same as the last time. (It may have had something to do with not having enough corn starch)
The flavor was amazingly sweet with a super strong vanilla flavor but super runny! So I tried again, this time I cooked it a little longer and made sure that I had the correct amount of corn starch that the recipe called for, and this time it turned out THICK! Super thick- my mom described it as having the flavor and texture of tapioca without the tapioca pearls. This texture might have its place for something, but it wasn’t the silky, delicious pastry cream that I was looking to master.
I searched for another recipe and was super excited when I found the America’s Test Kitchen recipe as part of the Boston Cream Pie recipe featured on Sally’s Baking Addiction. If you have been reading for a while, you know that I’ve become a fan of Sally’s blog, she has great ideas and wonderful tasting recipes. If you are looking for inspiration, her blog is a great place to begin.
One big difference between this recipe and the other ones that I tried to make is that this recipe is thickened with flour instead of corn starch. It also called for half and half instead of whole milk, along with slightly different ratios of sugar and butter than the previous recipes that I had tried. Thankfully, it did produce a silky, thick, rich, vanilla pastry cream that I now feel like I can add to different recipes and use to fill cream puffs and cakes!
The ingredients for this recipe are – 6 egg yolks at room temperature, 2 cups of half and half, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 4 tablespoons butter, 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour and a big dollop of vanilla bean paste. (If you don’t have vanilla bean paste you can use 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.)
This recipe requires a little set up to make it easy once you get started. First, place your egg yolks in a medium sized bowl to make them easier to whisk later. Next, have a medium sized sauce pan ready for cooking your cream. Also, have a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl so that it is ready to strain your finished cream before chilling.
To begin, I placed my two cups of half and half on the stove over medium heat. I added a large dollop of vanilla bean paste and then whisk it all together. I let this sit on the stove over medium heat while whisking occasionally until it was steaming and right before simmering.
While the half and half is heating, I added the salt and sugar to the egg yolks and whisked them all together. I continued to whisk the mixture until it changed color to a light yellow. When I lifted my whisk, the mixture flowed off the like a thick ribbon, known as the ribbon stage. Next, I added my flour and whisked it first gently as not to make a mess, and then whisked it vigorously to continue to thicken the mixture and incorporate all the flour. I set my bowl on my favorite Stay-bowl-izer to help make this whole process super easy. I also used a balloon whisk while working in the bowl because the sides of the bowl are round and this whisk is perfect for reaching all the mixture and edges of the bowl.
This next step is the trickiest step of the whole recipe – tempering the eggs. I have been afraid of doing this for so long, but once I finally figured out how to do it through practice, trial and error, I realized that it isn’t scary, just a new skill to learn!
To temper the egg mixture, you first add about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of the steamed half and half and vanilla to the egg mixture and carefully and quickly whisk the mixture the whole time. Then you add the rest of the half and half mixture to the egg mixture and continue to whisk the entire time. Don’t be afraid to use a spatula to get all of specks of vanilla beans off the bottom of the pan at this stage, you will strain it later so don’t be scared of the bottom of the pan half and half that may look more cooked. These steps help to slowly warm up the eggs to prepare them to go back on the stove without cooking them and turning into scrambled eggs.
After the egg mixture is fully incorporated into the half and half and vanilla, return it to the pan over medium-low heat. Whisk it continually for 5 – 7 minutes until it begins to thicken. Then turn the heat up to medium-high and whisk for 1-2 minutes or until the mixture magically transforms from a slightly thick milky mixture to a creamy custardy mixture. You will notice that it reduces in size when it thickens. You want to make sure it looks like custard in the pan, because it will not thicken drastically when it cools. (I’ve made this mistake several times.) When I whisk in this sauce pan, I use a bubble whisk to make sure that I can reach all the corners of the pan so that no mixture sits and curdles in the corner of the pan. If you do not want to use a bubble whisk, you can use a saucier pan with rounded sides and a balloon whisk.
Once the mixture is thick, add the butter cut into small pieces to the custard and whisk until all of the butter is melted and incorporated into the mix. (If you are using vanilla extract you would add it now.)
Then, pour the custard over the strainer into the smaller bowl. Use a spatula to lightly press the custard through the strainer. I like to work from the edges to the middle, not sure why, but I think it is because my strainer has a large base and I want to make sure all the custard goes into bowl. Don’t forget to scrape all the custard from the bottom of the strainer into the bowl. Any egg that overcooked and scrambled while you were cooking the custard should remain in the strainer.
Once in the bowl, cover the entire mixture with plastic wrap. Take care to press the plastic wrap into the surface of the custard. This will keep a skin from forming on the custard while it cools. I put the lid on my container and refrigerate it until the entire mixture is cool. This can take from 2 – 4 hours, but most recipes recommend leaving it for up to 24 before using.
When you are ready to use your pastry cream, whisk it until it is smooth and then use it in any way you would like (eating it right out of the bowl is totally fine!) I wanted to pipe mine to make sure that it would hold its shape and I would know that it could be used to fill cream puffs in the future. I placed a star tip in a piping bag and placed my piping bag over a cup to make it easier to fill. (This picture is from my first batch which had a much lighter color than my final batch). I am sure this pastry cream would also be delicious sandwiched between two sponge cakes and topped with chocolate as it was intended in the Boston Cream Pie recipe that I found it in.
- Man, I used SOOOOO many eggs making 4 batches of pastry cream in two weeks.
- I also made the final recipe twice because the fist time I didn’t take any pictures because I was nervous that it wouldn’t turn out.
- My mom came to visit to help me while I had my wisdom teeth out last week and I made her taste test all of these recipes – she liked them all for different reasons – she is the best!
- I am so happy to feel like I have a solid recipe to use in the future for pastry cream – I can’t wait to see where I will use it next.
Recipe: Pastry Cream
- 2 cups half-and-half
- Dollop of vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract)
- 6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Heat half-and-half and vanilla bean paste in a medium saucepan over medium heat until steaming and almost simmering.
- Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, granulated sugar, and salt together in a bowl until smooth, light in color and thickened.
- Add the flour and whisk until combined. Mixture will be thick.
- Add about 1/2 cup half-and-half into yolk mixture and whisk constantly to temper. Then add the rest of the half-and-half to the yolk mixture while continuing to whisk constantly.
- Then add the mixture into the saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, whisking constantly, for 5 -7 minutes as the mixture thickens.
- Increase heat to medium-high and cook, whisking vigorously, until bubbles burst on the surface, about 1-2 minutes and the mixture is custardy.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the butter until combined. (Add vanilla extract now if using.)
- Pastry cream will be thick. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Press the custard gently through the strainer into the bowl.
- Press plastic wrap directly on surface of pastry cream and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Whisk until smooth when ready to use.