This pastry cream recipe has evolved from years of making several other chef’s recipes. I make use of two small appliances, a stand mixer to whip the eggs, sugar, and starch to extreme lightness, and a food processor to blend in the butter after cooking, a step that also eliminates any lumps that may occur. If you don’t have these machines, or prefer not to drag them out of storage, you can complete both of these steps by hand whisking. Finally, I have adopted Sherry Yards double fisted stirring technique; a rubber spatula in one hand to scrape the sides and bottom of the pot where the starches thicken first, and a whisk, used gingerly to ensure smoothness of the custard without bashing the starches into gummy chains.
1 vanilla bean, split and seeded
- Place the butter in a food processor and set it aside.
- Place the milk in a medium sized pot with a heavy bottom. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the tip of your knife to scrape the tiny black seeds from the pot. Place both the pod, and the seeds in the pot with the milk, and place over medium high heat.
- When the milk comes to a boil, remove from heat and set aside, allowing the vanilla pod to infuse while you prepare the next step.
- Place the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Whip these ingredients on high speed for 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy, and the egg yolks have turned a pale buttery yellow. After 2 minutes reduce the speed to low.
- Remove the vanilla pod from the pot of milk, and slowly drizzle the hot milk into the bowl. Aim for the space between the side of the bowl and the whip, this will reduce the risk of hot milk splattering onto you. Set the emptied pot aside to use again. When all the milk has been added, stop the mixer, and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl clean. Whip on low for 30 more seconds to reincorporate the thicker batter that was on the sides.
- Once the mixture is even, place a fine mesh strainer over the reserved pot, and strain the custard into the pot.
- Place the pot over medium heat, and grab a rubber spatula in one hand and a whisk in the other. Cook the custard over medium heat until it comes to a boil. While the custard is cooking, you’ll employ both of the utensils in your hand, scraping the bottom of the pot with the rubber spatula, pulling the custard away from the surface of the pot where it thickens faster. You will also whisk the custard, to ensure it is smooth through out the entire cooking process, but resist the urge to beat it with the whisk. A gentle controlled whisking is required, the starches in the custard are swelling with the increasing heat, and will burst if hit too hard with the whisk. The broken starches will start to cling together forming chains, which will result in a gummy pastry cream.
- When the pastry cream starts to boil, set a timer for two minutes, and cook, whisking and scraping, until the timer goes off.
- After 2 minutes, immediately pour the hot pastry cream into the food processor with the butter. Pulse 3 to 5 times, until the butter is incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth, but no more! The added fat will help prevent the starches from forming gummy chains when agitated by the blade, but it can only do so much.
- Congratulations, you are now the proud parent of pastry cream! Do with it as you wish, whisk in chocolate, cast it into a tart shell, or let it set for future use. To do this, transfer the pastry cream to a shallow vessel; a wide-mouthed bowl or pie plate works well. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming while it cools. The pastry cream needs to cool completely before it is used in another application. Not only will any residual heat from the warm pastry cream alter the texture of the added ingredients, but the starches need to completely set before they can be moved about again, or they will loose their strength. Once cool, the pastry cream can be scraped out of the shallow vessel and store in any airtight container for about 3 days. The starches will begin to break down if it is held much longer, making the pastry cream leaky. If this happens, you can bring it back together with some aggressive whisking, but its strength will begin to deteriorate.