Recipe 3 of 61: Pastry Cream

I think I’m in love with pastry cream. It’s one of the best and most important recipes to know how to make as it can be used to fill cupcakes, tarts, cream puffs, and many other pastries. You could even just eat it straight from the bowl…

My absolute favorite way to eat pastry cream is as a filling (that is mixed with whipped cream) in my favorite doughnut of ALL. TIME. If I could only have one doughnut for the rest of my life, it would be this one. Maybe I’ll post the doughnut recipe on here, once I’m finished with my goal of baking through The Art of French Pastry. Just look at those vanilla bean specks! Absolute heaven on earth ♥︎

Many of you have probably never worked with vanilla beans before, and that’s ok! This is a learning blog! There is a huge difference in flavor between vanilla extract and vanilla beans. Pure vanilla extract is made with water, alcohol (35%), sugar, and vanilla bean extractives. It has a very strong smell of vanilla and alcohol to it, but it’s phenomenal in baking. It’s the punch of flavor that recipe’s need. Sometimes it’s too much though. My sister once asked me if I had used pure vanilla extract in a recipe, which I had, because she could taste a hint of alcohol, so I pick and choose what recipes I use it for. I don’t use pure vanilla extract in whipped cream, for example, because it really stands out. I use imitation vanilla extract instead, and it definitely reminds me of my childhood. Even though it’s not pure, the light and sweet smell and taste of imitation vanilla makes me happy. I rarely use it, but I have it just in case. Imitation vanilla is made with water, propylene, glycol, vanillin, caramel color, sodium benzoate, phosphoric acid, and ethyl vanillin… Update: I just recently found Watkins’ Baking Vanilla, which is extract that has a low-alcohol formula! Higher quality ingredients, $1 less than pure vanilla extract (yikes, still expensive), and can be used in anything without adding the alcohol flavor!

Now vanilla beans…seriously, the flavor is ridiculously good with vanilla beans. The flavor is very pure and the aroma is amazing but hard to describe. Kind of like chocolate chip cookie dough before you add the chocolate chips! I absolutely love being able to see all the specks of vanilla bean. No joke, I am obsessed with vanilla bean specks. I buy Haagen Daaz vanilla bean ice cream purely because of the specks (and obviously the high quality ingredients and the FEW ingredients that are used….but mainly the specks-vanilla beans give SO MUCH FLAVOR).

What do I see here? Moist, soft, full vanilla beans. See my fingers? When you hold a vanilla bean that is fresh, it’ll rub off on your hands-it’s like “free” perfume that lasts about an hour. I’ve used vanilla beans that are slightly dried out also, and they do still work.

Vanilla beans are almost double the cost of pure extract (I got 10 beans on Amazon for $30 which is a great price!), but they are so so worth it. I will always use vanilla beans if the recipe calls for it, and I always keep them on hand, just in case I want to add them to a recipe that doesn’t call for it. Make sure you purchase Madagascar vanilla beans due to their sweet, creamy, and mellow flavor, and make sure you always buy from a legit source. I found some at Costco a few months ago that came in a sealed glass tube, and I now keep all my vanilla beans in there. It definitely helps to keep them fresh and moist (sorry, I hate that word, but it’s true. They stay moist-er…that’s not even a word…).

You may have seen some recipes calling for vanilla bean paste before, which is actually a mix of the two! Vanilla bean paste has a syrup consistency and is highly concentrated. One tablespoon of vanilla bean paste in a batch of frosting is a game changer. It’s a perfect mix of extract and beans.

Pastry Cream

Difficulty: 1/5

Taste: 10/5

How long it takes: 15 minutes, plus 15 minutes freezer time

Jacquy’s pastry cream is made with milk, butter, sugar, vanilla bean, cornstarch, cake flour, and egg yolks. I’ve looked at other recipes, and they’re a little bit different-most have fewer ingredients. There’s a reason for why he uses more ingredients…I’ll explain at the end.

Pastry cream starts out with cutting a vanilla bean. Vanilla beans are cut from top to bottom, right down the middle, leaving the underside uncut. Then you scrape the seeds out, and they’re ready to use! Super easy.

You can see I actually cut through quite a bit-that’s ok! Just make sure when you scrape the bean, that you’re careful not to scrape a piece of the outside along with the seeds 🙂 Honestly though, if you do, the sifting portion of this recipe (and other recipes) will keep those pieces out of your recipe. So….now that I’m thinking about it, cut it however you wish lol!

Added to a saucepan is milk, butter, sugar, and vanilla seeds and bean, brought to a boil. Keep that bean, it has loads of flavor! Butter has loads of flavor! Whole milk must be used also. No skimping corners here, folks. No diets allowed. Low-fat or skim milk do not belong here as they make soupy pastry cream because there’s no fat! I will note that you can make a dairy-free version, but I haven’t tried that yet. My nephew is allergic to dairy though, so I will in the future!

In a separate bowl is whisked together cornstarch, flour, sugar, and milk.

Then egg yolks are mixed in. Egg yolks are what provide the magic to pastry cream. The lecithin in the yolks bind the liquid and fat so that the mixture thickens and remains moist (sorry…)!

Make sure to mix until there are no more lumps of cornstarch! You can see below I needed to mix just a bit more until completely smooth.

Once the stove mixture is boiling, whisk half the boiling mixture into the flour mixture. Strain the mixture back into the hot pan.

See those pieces of cornstarch I didn’t mix in well? The straining keeps it out of my pastry cream!

Everything is placed back on the stove, where you have to whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and the cornstarch flavor disappears. You’ll know immediately when it thickens. Not only will you see it, but you’ll feel it when you’re stirring.

Once the cream is thick, it is immediately poured on a cookie sheet and covered with plastic wrap before placing it in the freezer for 15 minutes-this stops any bacteria from growing. If you don’t cover it up right away, it develops this nasty film that is really thick and makes your cream have chunks in it. Disgusting. If that ever happens, throw it out and start again.

This is how it will look when you take it out of the freezer and plop it into a bowl:

Throw it in the mixer for about 30 seconds, or you can hand mix it with a whisk. That will make it smooth and shiny ?

The first photo shows how it’s quite grainy, the second is after it’s been whipped to perfection ?

Whipping it just for 20 seconds makes it creamier and lighter! And just look at those vanilla bean specks ♥︎

At this point, pastry cream is technically ready to be used; however, I rarely just use pastry cream because it doesn’t make a lot. I normally mix it with homemade whipped cream! Homemade whipped cream is made with heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla. I never really measure it, but this’ll get you going in the right direction: Pour 1 pint heavy cream into your mixer and turn on medium speed. Once you notice it starting to get thick, add about a tablespoon of sugar. Continue to mix for a minute or so, watching closely as it is possible to overmix. Once the texture looks like store-bought whipped cream, add your vanilla extract (or vanilla bean paste!), about 1 teaspoon. Mix until combined, then taste. I usually add more sugar, then it’s ready!

Adding whipped cream obviously gives you almost double the filling. It also makes it super light and airy and oh so good.

If I’m not using whipped cream for pastry cream, I’ll usually add some lemon or orange zest along with some of the fruit’s juice to give the whipped cream just a bit more flavor. So so good. I do that at Christmas time when I make my traditional Winter Fruit Salad. It gives it some extra pizazz. Adding it on top of angel food cake with strawberries is a game changer too!

Another great part about pastry cream is adding flavorings! So far, I’ve made raspberry, lemon, hazelnut butter, coffee, and chocolate pastry cream.

Pastry cream is used for everything. I love it so much! These boston cream cupcakes I created were filled with pastry cream, homemade whipped cream, and white chocolate pudding. They were f.a.n.t.a.s.t.i.c.

These raspberry puff pastry tarts? Yup, pastry cream. With lemon zest and juice. Yum.

Have I convinced you to make pastry cream yet? I know, I know, I’m really sorry I can’t give out Jacquy’s recipe. His is the best I’ve had; however, King Arthur Flour has a good one too if you’re just dying to make it right this second lol.

So…did I learn anything making pastry cream?

  1. I feel like it re-taught me to be precise when adding ingredients, i.e. carefully adding eggs to hot liquids and how to sift and mix ingredients properly. I feel like this recipe is so simple, with so few ingredients, that it is important to perfect it. It’s also important to use high-quality ingredients so the taste is top-notch.
  2. I learned why Jacquy’s recipe uses corn starch and cake flour, when recipes normally call for only one! If you only used cornstarch, the cream would have a “glossy consistency of a cheap, fast-food Chinese restaurant”, and only using flour would result in rubbery cream because of all the gluten.

Pastry cream is used in nine recipes in The Art of French Pastry. I am so excited to try them all ♥︎

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