Vanilla pastry cream is an egg-based custard and, basically, let’s face it—it’s pudding. This is something you should have in your dessert repertoire if you ever plan on making such things as cream puffs, eclairs, banana or coconut cream pie, a fresh fruit tart, a layered trifle, etc. On its own, it is nothing short of wonderful.
Now, if you’re sitting there wondering why you just couldn’t make a box of Jell-O instant pudding, the answer is you absolutely could. This is where you can stop reading and find another recipe to try. I cast no aspersions on you. In fact, if you were to take a look in my pantry right now, you’d find a couple of boxes of Jell-O pudding and even (gasp) a box or two of cake mix!
I don’t believe I’ve posted any recipes yet using either boxed pudding or cake mix—but, before all is said and done, I intend to do so. What I want to suggest is that if you don’t want to be bothered making a cake from scratch for a recipe involving other steps, then simply substitute your favorite cake mix. On the other hand, when I post a recipe using a cake mix, feel free to substitute your favorite scratch cake recipe. I won’t think less of you in either case. I’m all for whatever works for you in the kitchen and whatever your family likes. There’s just one thing I’m persnickety about—if you use a jar of bottled Italian sauce in any of my recipes, I don’t want to know about it!
If you have never made pastry cream or homemade custard before, you may not be aware that there is a cooking technique involved for tempering the eggs so that they won’t curdle. I’m sure you know what happens when you add eggs to the hot surface of a frying pan—they start to become solid very fast. When making an egg-based custard, you will beat eggs and set them aside while you heat milk and sugar to a high enough temperature to avoid salmonella. If you were to add the eggs directly to the heated milk mixture, the eggs would definitely curdle and you would have unpleasant lumps in your custard. To prevent this, you want to temper the eggs by adding small amounts of the heated milk to the beaten eggs, stirring all the while. This will warm up the egg mixture very gradually so that when you finally add them to the heated milk, stirring constantly as you do so, they will not curdle and the mixture will remain smooth as it thickens.
Don’t be intimidated by the procedure. It really isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and the results are well worth it. If, by chance, your custard ends up with some small lumps, you can always put it through a fine-holed sieve to smooth it out.
So, whether you call this pastry cream, custard, or pudding, just don’t call me late when you serve it!
Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 1 qt. whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 5 tbl. cornstarch
- 2 tbl. vanilla extract
- 2 oz. unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar, divided
Pour milk into a 4-qt. pan and bring milk plus 1/2 cup sugar to 175o F, stirring to dissolve sugar. Use a candy thermometer to ascertain the temperature of the heated milk mixture. If you have never used a candy thermometer before, be sure not to touch the bottom of the pan with the thermometer. You will not get an accurate reading if you do so.
Combine eggs and cornstarch and set aside until milk reaches 175o. Then, stir in remaining 1/2 cup sugar into eggs.
Now, temper eggs with a cup of the hot milk by pouring the milk in slowly and stirring constantly as you do so.
Place plastic wrap or wax paper over surface immediately to prevent a skin from forming over the top of the custard. You can chill in an ice water bath, stirring occasionally to redistribute and chill thoroughly. May fold in up to one cup of whipped cream to “lighten” filling.
Source: My good friend, Jill, who made me a banana cream pie for my birthday several years ago using this delicious vanilla pastry cream.