The first time I made pastry cream, I was working with Zoë François on a chaotic but incredibly fun photoshoot. I was back in the kitchen baking loaves of bread and brioche, trying to stay ahead of schedule and have everything ready for the next photo. Pastry cream was needed, and I pretended I knew what I was doing when Zoë handed me the recipe and told me to make it quick. Somehow I pulled it off – there before me in the pan was a thick, yellow custard. I took the pan off the heat to show her how pretty it was. She took it from my hands and placed it back on the stovetop. “Cook out the starch!” she insisted. “Whisk it until it’s glossy and smooth, or you’ll have a grainy mess.” I meekly obeyed and ended up with the most beautiful, smooth pastry cream. Making pastry cream now, I always remember her directions. Cooking the custard for a few extra minutes helps cook out the starch and keeps the cream from separating.
These days, I start my pastry cream in a stand mixer, beating the eggs and sugar until thick and pale, then slowly add warm milk and cream to temper the eggs. It is a little more hands off and less messy than the way I used to make pastry cream.
- 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cup [250 g] granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
- 1/4 cup [28 g] cornstarch
- 1 cup [240 g] whole milk
- 1 cup [240 g] heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the egg yolks on low speed. Slowly add the sugar, followed by the salt and vanilla bean seeds, and increase the speed to medium-high. Beat the egg-sugar mixture until very thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the cornstarch. Turn the mixer to low speed and mix until combined.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the milk, heavy cream, and vanilla bean pod until just about to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture into a medium measuring cup with a pourable spout.
- With the mixer running on low speed, very slowly add the hot milk mixture (along with the pod). Mix until completely combined.
- Transfer the mixture to a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the pastry cream becomes very thick and begins to boil, 5 to 7 minutes. Switch to a whisk, and whisk the mixture until the pastry cream thickens and is glossy and smooth, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Discard the vanilla bean pod. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure the wrap sits directly on top of the cream (this will help keep it from forming a skin). Place in the refrigerator until well chilled. Pastry cream can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.
If the egg yolks are left alone with the sugar, the sugar can burn the yolk, causing it to harden and form little egg yolk bits in whatever you are making. Make sure to continuously whisk the yolks while adding sugar in any recipe.
Variation: Chocolate Pastry Cream - add 6 oz [170 g] of melted bittersweet chocolate to the saucepan just before straining the pastry cream. Whisk until fully incorporated and strain the pastry cream as directed.