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Friday, December 17, 2010

Pastry Cream

I am really excited about the batch of posts that goes along with this one. Today I'll start with pastry cream and then tomorrow I'll show you the basics of pâte à choux, otherwise known as cream puff pastry. What I love is that once you have these two recipes, the possibilities are endless. Brace yourself... in the next week you will see some of the prettiest food you've ever seen. One of the desserts I prepared and photographed was so beautiful I couldn't eat it. In fact, it's still sitting in the kitchen... three days later. But every time I look at it, I smile, so I guess it was a fair trade.

The great thing about desserts composed of cream puff pastry and pastry cream is that they taste as wonderful as they look. Hoo yeah. Let's get started with these two basic recipes so we can get on with the really fun part!

The first step is to scald some milk on the stove. Whole milk produces the best pastry cream, but I suppose you could get by with 2% in a pinch. You only want to heat it until bubbles form along the edge and it is starting to steam.

While the milk is heating, beat the egg yolks and sugar together with a balloon whisk until the mixture is thick and will leave a trail when you move the beater over the surface. Then mix together the flour and cornstarch together and add it to the eggs, beating to combine.

The next step is to temper the eggs. Simply pouring the hot milk into the eggs all at once would provide too much heat too quickly which could cook the eggs too quickly, leaving a gloppy, lumpy mess. To prevent that disaster, you just need to start slowly. Pour a small stream of the milk in to start. Once about half of the milk has been added, you can go a little faster with the second half. Be sure the mixer (or your hand!) is whisking continuously as you add the milk.

Wash the sauce pan you heated the milk in and pour the egg and milk mixture back into it and place on the stove over medium heat. Heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture just starts to boil. At this point, the mixture will be quite thick and the boiling will not be visible while you are stirring, so occasionally stop stirring for a moment to see if a big bubble will pop through the surface. Once you notice that the mixture is, indeed, at a boil, continuing cooking and stirring for two more minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and pass the thickened pastry cream through a sieve into a bowl to remove any unappealing lumps that may have formed.

Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the cream. This will keep a rubbery skin from forming on the surface. Place the pastry cream in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight to cool completely before using. Pastry cream will keep in the refrigerator for maybe four days before it starts weeping pretty badly or at room temperature in baked goods for a day.


Pastry Cream
Yield: About 2 cups
adapted from Patisserie of France, by H. Walden, 1988

1 1/4 cups milk (whole milk preferred)
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
3 TBS flour
2 tsp corn starch
dash salt
1 tsp vanilla

Heat the milk on the stove (or in the microwave) until bubbles form at the edges of the pan and it is just starting to steam. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until they are thick and yellow and will leave a trail across the surface when the beater is lifted. Mix together the flour, cornstarch, and salt and stir into the egg mixture.

Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture slowly with the beater running to temper the eggs. Rinse the milk heating sauce pan and return the mixture to it and heat over medium, stirring continuously, until the mixture just starts to boil. It will be very thick and may not look like it is boiling while you are stirring, so stop stirring for a moment from time to time to check its status. Once it reaches a boil, continue cooking and stirring for another two minutes. This step is very important to have a smooth pastry cream that does not have a raw flour flavor.

After the two minutes, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Pass the mixture through a sieve and into a bowl to remove any lumps. Cover with plastic wrap so that the wrap is touching the surface of the cream so that a skin does not form. Chill for a few hours or overnight before using. Pastry cream will keep about four days in the refrigerator or one day at room temperature in pastries.

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