How to Make Pastry Cream
I recently received an order for eclairs and cream puffs and since the How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing tutorial was so well-received, I thought that this order would provide a good opportunity to share with you a step-by-step tutorial on how pastry cream is made, as well as how the pâte à choux dough for eclairs and cream puffs is made, and how they are all assembled together. Prior to making Bostini Cream Pies, I was deathly afraid of pastry cream. I had heard horror stories about scrambled eggs, and to be honest I wanted nothing to do with it. However, after successfully making it, I have to say that I felt like an accomplished baker. Or maybe pastry chef? Either way, I felt like I had crossed that imaginary line in the kitchen that divides the big kids from the toddlers. I was finally a big kid. I could hang in the kitchen. My delicious pastry cream was proof. Since that first success I have made it again many times for many different recipes. There is nothing finer than a spoonful of freshly made pastry cream. Warm, smooth, creamy and utterly fantastic.
Alright, we’re going to make pastry cream, and then eclairs and cream puffs. Are you excited?!
No more fear. Grab your eggs, a whisk and strap on an apron. Whether you want to fill the eclairs and cream puffs I’ll show you how to make, or maybe a Boston cream pie or banana cream pie, you will feel like the grand poobah of the kitchen for mastering pastry cream. Ready, set, whisk!
I am using the same recipe that I used last summer when I made eclairs and cream puffs, this time walking you through each section step-by-step with commentary and pictures. If you want to be able to view and/or print the recipe without the commentary and pictures I suggest clicking over to that previous post where the recipe for pastry cream is listed without photos or extra notes.
A great big thank you to my sister Lauren for taking a ton of “action shots” while I prepared this so I wouldn’t have to worry about juggling a camera while I was whisking and stirring. That could have been ugly. (I’m not exactly known for my coordination.)
This post is going to be solely devoted to pastry cream, and then we will work through the pâte à choux dough for the eclairs and cream puffs, and finally the assembly. I hope you’ll find this to be a useful series!
Part 1: The Pastry Cream
This is the first step in making eclairs or cream puffs because the cream needs to chill for at least a couple of hours (preferably overnight) before you use it to fill the pastries. So let’s get started!
2 cups half-and-half
½ cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
A Note on Eggs
I realize that many people sometimes shy away from recipes that require you to work with eggs on a stove because of the risk of bacteria. Sure, you can heat it to 160°F, but how accurate is that thermometer? Even if you have complete confidence in your thermometer, it may still make you uncomfortable. When making any type of pastry creams or custards (and ice cream!) I highly recommend purchasing pasteurized eggs. These eggs have already been heated externally to temperatures that kill any and all bacteria that may exist. The beauty here is that you don’t need to worry about the temperature and know you are safe. My store currently sells Davidson’s brand, but I have also seen Land o’ Lakes brand. They are located right alongside regular eggs.
1. Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined.
Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.
Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.
3. When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper.
Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.
Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.
Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.
Note on straining: This is key step because it will ensure that your finished pastry cream will be silky smooth with no lumps or bumps.
Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series tomorrow where I’ll show you how to make pâte à choux dough that will morph into wonderfully light eclairs and cream puffs that we will fill with the pastry cream.
Now tell me: What is your favorite recipe that includes pastry cream?
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