~ Sweet Dreams: Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) ~
Some people dream about chocolate. I dream about egg-laced pastry cream: silky-smooth, lushly-thickened creme patissiere. It's decadent and naughtily-seductive in an elegant sort of way. Desserts containing this sophisticated custard are at the top of my 'favorite sweet things' VERY short list. They're up there next to freshly-made real-deal lemon or blueberry Danish, and, the original Lindy's cherry cheesecake with their signature vanilla-wafer cookie crust.
A bit about "creme patissiere" (pah-tees-SYAY): These are the two fancy French words for "pastry cream". It's essentially "sauce anglaise" (ahn-GLEHZ), aka a drizzly "vanilla sauce" that has been thickened with a starch (flour can be and is used, but cornstarch is more common nowadays). It is the density that the thickening agent adds that transforms the delicate sauce into a dessert filling for baked goods like eclairs, cream puffs, fruit tarts, and, between the layers of cakes or Napoleons. While it can be eaten with a spoon, culinarily, it is classified as a filling. Pastry cream is classically made with milk flavored with Cointreau, rum and/or vanilla beans or extract.
That said, some cooks opt for using cream or half-and half (not me), and, with the array of flavorings available nowadays, feel free to have fun with that aspect of making pastry cream.
Making cream patissiere is taught in every culinary school. It's a technique and it's based on a basic formula. Some recipes may use flour instead of cornstarch, and a few may include some cream, but, in order for the pastry cream to thicken properly, you gotta play by the rules. It's cooked on the stovetop over moderate heat, it gets whisked constantly and the ingredients get added at very specific points in time during the process. One sarcastic comment from me: When pastry cream is removed from the stovetop, it is silky smooth. Run fast and far from any recipe instructing to "pour the finished product into a strainer and push it through to catch any bits of egg that may be in the cream" -- if that has to be done, that's pastry cream gone wrong!
4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split in half, seeds removed, or, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or, both (Note: As mentioned above, feel free to experiment with other flavors. Almond, banana, butterscotch, coconut, rum, lemon or orange are some of my favorite options. That said, when I do use them, I still include the vanilla bean or 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.)
8 large eggs yolks
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, kept cold (1 stick)
~ Step 1. Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of the milk and the extract(s), until smooth. Set aside. Cube the butter and return the cubes to the refrigerator.
~ Step 3. Place the saucepan of milk over medium heat. If using vanilla beans, add them now. Over medium heat, bring milk to steaming (not simmering or boiling), about 3 minutes. Using a whisk, in a gradual steady stream, whisk in the egg yolk/sugar mixture.
Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly (this mixture can scorch easily). In the beginning, the mixture will be foamy on top. As the mixture begins to thicken, within 3-4 minutes, switch from a whisk to a large spoon.
You'll notice that the foam is beginning to subside. Begin adding the cold butter pieces, 2-3-4 at a time, stirring well after each addition. Repeat this process untill all of the butter has been added and is thoroughly incorporated.
~ Step 4. Continue to cook until the pastry cream is nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbonlike, about 2-3 more minutes. There will be no more foam on the top. If you have added the vanilla beans, they will be evenly speckled throughout. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to an 8-cup measuring container to prevent further cooking. Note: I like to use a measuring container because when it comes time to use the pastry cream, it is already measured for me!
~ Step 5. Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap, meaning: don't just cover the container, place the plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a rubbery skin from forming on top. Cool 1-2 hours before refrigerating for several hours or overnight. I almost always chill my creme patissiere overnight prior to using it. Store in refrigerator for up to a week.
Stay warm, sleep tight & sweet dreams!!!
Special Equipment List: 4-quart saucepan; 2-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; knife; hand-held electric mixer; whisk; large spoon; 8-cup measuring container; plastic wrap
Cook's Note: Another technique that all cooks of every skill level should take it upon themselves to learn is: the art of making sweet and savory compound butters. They are so easy to make and add incredible flavor to all sorts of things. For my favorite sweet version, which I keep on hand in my freezer almost all of the time, click into Categories 4, 8, 9 or 20 to learn how to make ~ Orange Cinnamon & Vanilla Bean Butter ~!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)