Baking Fundamentals: Pastry Cream

Baking Fundamentals: Pastry Cream
Simply served with raspberries, pastry cream can make an elegant dessert.
 Pastry cream (crème patisserie) is a cooked custard, thickened with cornstarch that is used in countless desserts. If you get serious about baking, having pastry cream up your sleeve means you've got the fundamental filling of eclairs, tarts, boston cream pie, and more in your back pocket. Even served simply, straight up and garnished with cookies or fruit, pastry cream is an impressive dessert.

The recipe below is very simple and basic, but a good starting point. It isn't too sweet or too rich, but allows you many variations that include extra egg yolks, more sugar, or even the addition of folded-in whipped cream at the very end, to lighten the overall mixture.

2 cups milk (2% or whole milk recommended)
1/4 cup sugar
1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tblsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

When you start, you need a saucepan and a heat proof bowl. In the saucepan goes the milk and the first 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir to combine and put over medium heat.

In the heat proof bowl, place your egg and egg yolks. Whisk in the sugar, salt, and cornstarch.

Milk and sugar in the pan.
Eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt, mixed in a bowl.

When the milk/sugar mixture just comes to a bubble (you don't want a rolling boil, just a simmer) slowly add the milk mixture to the egg mixture. I like to ladle it in, whisking constantly so you don't scramble the eggs. When a little more than half of your hot milk is mixed into the eggs, pour (whisking constantly) everything back into the saucepan and continue whisking over medium heat until the mixture has thickened. Then, remove from heat and whisk in the butter and the vanilla extract. Move to mixture to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap (touching the cream so you don't develop a skin) then move to the fridge to chill. It's now ready to use.

Combined and thickened, make sure you whisk so the mixture stays smooth.

In bowl to be chilled
Covered with plastic

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