This smooth, rich pastry cream is a classic component in many desserts such as fruit tarts and trifles. Variations abound, those using whole eggs, some with just yolks and some with a combination thereof. The dairy component can also range from milk to cream to a middle ground of half-and-half. No one is better than another; they are just different. This pastry cream recipe is on the lighter side using milk and whole eggs. If you have a saucier pan, which has a very rounded bottom (as seen below), you will be able to whisk the custard without any scorching.
Images: Peter Muka
- 2 cups milk
- ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Put the milk in a medium saucepan and scrape in the vanilla-bean seeds. Add the vanilla-bean pod to the pot as well. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Discard the bean pod.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a heatproof bowl until very smooth; set aside. Reheat the milk if it has become tepid.
- Drizzle about one-quarter of the warm milk over the egg mixture, whisking gently. Add the remaining warm milk and whisk to combine. Immediately pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat until it begins to simmer and bubbles appear. Cook, whisking constantly to prevent scorching, for about 1 minute. The pastry cream should be thick enough to mound when dropped from a spoon, but still satiny. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla extract.
- Allow the pastry cream to cool, stirring occasionally to release the heat. When almost at room temperature, scrape into an airtight container, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface, snap on the cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until thoroughly chilled. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Liqueur Variation: 2 tablespoons of liqueur, such as Cointreau, rum, eau de vie, or Kahlúa may be gently stirred into the pastry cream during the cooling phase at the end of the recipe.
- If you don’t have a vanilla bean or don’t want to use one, simply increase the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon.
- All pastry creams are very perishable. By stirring occasionally while cooling to release the heat, you will cool it down effectively and you will be able to get it into the refrigerator quickly. However, the firmness of the pastry cream is setting up during cooling as well, so stir very gently. Our approach is to make one gentle rotation of a wooden spoon a couple of times during cooling, nothing more.