I must admit that pastry cream is probably one of my favorite dessert items. Put it on just about anything and I’m happy. I’m not a a big fan of whipped cream, icings or frostings, which I usually find too sweet. I love pastry cream and custards. The texture is more substantive than whipped cream and doesn’t have the grittiness of frostings or icings. This pastry cream works well for Boston Cream Pie, and I used it for my Strawberry Boston Cream Pie, but it also works for other cream filled cakes and desserts. For an easy dessert, try serving the cream in a small bowl with some fresh bananas and strawberries (and, ok, some whipped cream if that is your thing).
TIP: Make sure to temper the hot milk slowly, or the mixture will curdle. Also, be sure you stir the mixture constantly once you return it to the heat so the mixture does not scorch. Finally, you will be tempted to remove the mixture from the heat as soon as it starts to bubble and boil, you can lower the heat to medium, but keep it on the keep and stir, stir, stir for a minute to ensure the mixture thickens!
ALL-PURPOSE PASTRY CREAM
1 cup milk (I use skim)
¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Place the milk and 1/8 cup of sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, combine the yolks and remaining 1/8 cup sugar in a bowl and beat until it is light in color. Add flour, vanilla and salt to the yolks and continue to beat until light yellow in color and thick in consistency.
Just as the milk begins to boil, remove from heat. Add one tablespoon of the warm milk to the yolk mixture, and whisk. Continue to add the milk to the yolks, one tablespoon at a time to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly until about half of the milk mixture remains. DO NOT RUSH this step, or the custard will curdle. After about half of the milk mixture remains, pour all of the yolk mixture into the small saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil, and allow it to boil for about one minute. Make sure you keep stirring and reach all of the sides. The mixture will be very thick. Remove from heat, add the butter and stir to incorporate the butter.
At this point, almost all recipes tell you to strain the custard into a small bowl. I never strain it. Straining will give you a smoother, silkier custard. I like a thick, rustic texture to my custard so I don’t strain it. Either way, place the custard into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and press the wrap directly onto the custard so a skin will not form on the cream. Refrigerate to chill for at least one hour before using.