Pastry Cream or Vanilla Custard

Pastry Cream-1-16Every cook should have a good recipe for Pastry Cream in their repertoire. You can use it in so many ways, in so many different types of desserts. It’s basically a vanilla custard, that you can prepare for a very simple but very delicious dessert, to be enjoyed just the way it is, or use it to fill Cream Puffs, Eclairs, frost cakes or even use in fruit salads. It’s smooth, creamy, velvety and luscious.

This recipe is from my most trusted source, Cook’s Illustrated. 

Ingredients:

2 cups half and half

1/3-1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 egg yolks

3 Tablespoons cornstarch

4 Tablespoons butter

1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-2 teaspoons cognac, optional

Instructions:Pastry Cream-1

I usually make a double batch of pastry cream, since I’m either making it for a large cake, or if I don’t use all the pastry cream, it’s a great dessert to have on hand to use in fruit salads, or to eat as a custard. Just warning you so you’re not misled by the pictures. I was making a double portion:).

Pour the half and half into a small/medium saucepan. It’s important to uses a saucepan with a good, solid bottom, or your custard will burn easily. If you don’t have a good quality saucepan, use a pot with a nonstick finish.

Add the 1/3-1/2 cups of sugar and salt. I’ll be honest; I add about 1/4 cup of sugar. What can I say? I don’t like my desserts to be too sweet.

If you’re using a vanilla bean, split it in half with a knife and scrape out the seeds. Pastry Cream-1-2Add the seeds to the half and half. (Don’t forget to use up the scraped out vanilla bean by making Vanilla Sugar, which, if you have some on hand, you can use in this recipe instead of regular sugar. It will taste phenomenal.) If you’re using vanilla extract, don’t pour it in yet.

Bring the mixture to a simmer on medium low heat, just until the sugar dissolves and you see tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the half and half.

Pastry Cream-1-6Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl, until the sugar dissolves. Pastry Cream-1-3Add the cornstarch and keep whisking until it’s completely incorporated into the egg yolks. Pastry Cream-1-4

Pastry Cream-1-5As soon as the half and half comes to a simmer, ladle in a small amount of the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture, whisking it all together at the same time, to make sure your eggs don’t scramble. Pastry Cream-1-7Gradually add more of the hot liquid, until you have all of it mixed together. Pastry Cream-1-8Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, return it to the stove and cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens. Pastry Cream-1-9You can make sure it’s thick enough by dipping a wooden spoon into the custard and when you run your finger down the center, the line should remain there and not run together. Another sign to look for is that as soon as the custard thickens, you will see bubbles start to rise from the very bottom of the saucepan and burst at the top. Turn off the heat immediately.

Pastry Cream-1-10At this point, check the insistency of your custard. If there are any lumps, tiny or big, it’s very easy to fix this. Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve and you’ll have beautiful, smooth pastry cream. Pastry Cream-1-11While it’s still hot, add the butter and mix it all together until the butter melts. If you’re using vanilla extract, add it to the pastry cream now, along with the cognac, if you’re using it. Pastry Cream-1-12

Pastry Cream-1-13Cool the pastry cream before using it. To prevent a skin from forming on the very top of the pastry cream, place a piece of plastic wrap or a bit or parchment paper directly on the surface of the pastry cream.

You can make the pastry cream/custard DAYS in advance, which is such a huge plus. Keep it refrigerated and tightly covered.Pastry Cream-1-16

Pastry Cream or Vanilla Custard
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Sweets
Serves: 3 cups
Ingredients
  • 2 cups half and half
  • ⅓-1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1-2 teaspoons cognac, optional
Instructions
  1. I usually make a double batch of pastry cream, since I'm either making it for a large cake, or if I don't use all the pastry cream, it's a great dessert to have on hand to use in fruit salads, or to eat as a custard.
  2. Pour the half and half into a small/medium saucepan. It's important to uses a saucepan with a solid bottom, or your custard will burn easily. If you don't have a good quality saucepan, use a pot with a nonstick finish.
  3. Add the ⅓-1/2 cups of sugar and salt. I'll be honest; I add about ¼ cup of sugar. What can I say? I don't like my desserts to be too sweet.
  4. If you're using a vanilla bean, split it in half with a knife and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to the half and half. (Don't forget to use up the scraped out vanilla bean by making Vanilla Sugar, which, if you have some on hand, you can use in this recipe instead of regular sugar. It will taste phenomenal.) If you're using vanilla extract, don't pour it in yet.
  5. Bring the mixture to a simmer on medium low heat, just until the sugar dissolves and you see tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the half and half.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl, until the sugar dissolves.
  7. Add the cornstarch and keep whisking until it's completely incorporated into the egg yolks.
  8. As soon as the half and half comes to a simmer, ladle in a small amount of the hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture, whisking it all together at the same time, to make sure your eggs don't scramble. Gradually add more of the hot liquid, until you have all of it mixed together.
  9. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan, return it to the stove and cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens. You can make sure it's thick enough by dipping a wooden spoon into the custard and when you run your finger down the center, the line should remain there and not run together. Another sign to look for is that as soon as the custard thickens, you will see bubbles start to rise from the very bottom of the saucepan and burst at the top. Turn off the heat immediately.
  10. At this point, check the insistency of your custard. If there are any lumps, tiny or big, it's very easy to fix this. Pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve and you'll have beautiful, smooth pastry cream.
  11. While it's still hot, add the butter and mix it all together until the butter melts.
  12. If you're using vanilla extract, add it to the pastry cream now, along with the cognac, if you're using it. Cool the pastry cream before using it.
  13. To prevent a skin from forming on the very top of the pastry cream, place a piece of plastic wrap or a bit or parchment paper directly on the surface of the pastry cream.
  14. You can make the pastry cream/custard DAYS in advance, which is such a huge plus. Keep it refrigerated and tightly covered.

 
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Comments

  1. Inna Savchuk says

    Looks amazing! I’m with you on not liking overly sweet desserts! Thats why I love your blog! It caters to my taste buds. Don’t know how many times I’ve made recipes from other russian food blogs and ended up with an entire cake going to waste cause it was way too sweet. Keep your god taste in recipes coming!!!

    • says

      I know, right?! In my opinion, you can’t enjoy desserts when they are too sweet, because you can only eat a spoonful. That’s how it is for me, anyway.

  2. malvina says

    Pastry creme turned out perfect! (i didnt have any half and half so I just used regular 2% milk) still so rich and thick.

      • Julie says

        Some people call whole milk homogenized milk, I learned when working at a grocery store. :*) I think it’s because of how prominent the word homogenized is labeled on many brands of whole milk cartons.

  3. Luda says

    I want to double this recipe, so I will end up needing 10 egg yolks. I dislike throwing away anything that I know can be put to good use (e.g. the egg whites). What can I make out of 10 egg whites? (other than scrambled egg whites lol)

    • says

      Hi Luda.
      You can make many things from egg whites, such as tarts with merge filling, or meringue cookies, Kiev cake.
      I try to use up as much food as I possibly can, but in the long run, if you would throw out the egg whites, you would throw out less than $1, and if you use it up, you will need to spend a lot more money for more ingredients for a different recipe, so keep that in mind as well.

  4. michelle says

    I have some whipping cream that I meant to use for another recipe but didn’t, if I swapped it for the half and half, would my pastry cream end up too thick?

    • says

      Whipping cream and heavy cream are basically the same thing, Michelle. Heavy cream contains 36 percent or more milk fat. Whipping cream is a bit lighter, with only 30 percent milk fat.

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