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If you’ve ever made homemade pudding, you know it’s worth the effort rather than making instant. Now, imagine that homemade pudding with a little less body or structure, but richer, smoother, and creamier. Now, let’s bring up the flavors a notch and you’ve got yourself an amazing pastry cream. In this lesson, you will learn how to make chocolate and vanilla pastry cream. In addition, you’ll learn how to create other flavors on your own.
Flour and Starch and Their Roles
While most pastry cream recipes are naturally gluten free, some may suggest adding all-purpose flour. In the recipes in this lesson, you will use starch instead. Cornstarch is the typical starch added to pastry cream. It is used in this case as a thickener. Starch is a little less noticeable than gluten free flour in pastry cream. Some people use both. You can taste the flour granules too much though.
When combining eggs with hot ingredients, the eggs tend to scramble in this liquid mixture. To prevent this we not only need to temper (slowly increase the temperature of) the eggs but adding starch also “helps” (not prevents) eggs from scrambling. This is why you beat the starch and eggs together. It’s almost as if the starch coats the eggs and protects them.
You never want to hurry the thickening process of pastry cream by increasing the temperature of the stove. Doing so results in a texture where you can taste the starch. It doesn’t cook down if the cooking time is shortened. Using arrowroot is the best choice of starches as it cooks down more than cornstarch. However, arrowroot starch is more expensive. Use it if it is in your budget and/or pantry.
The Role of Eggs in Pastry Cream
In addition to starch and flour, egg whites help thicken and provide structure/body to pastry cream. Many culinary experts suggest the use of whole eggs in pastry cream. Egg whites definitely help thicken pastry cream, but it doesn’t turn out smooth as it could be without them.
The Role of Egg Yolks in Pastry Cream
I have found that you can make smoother pastry cream using egg yolks alone. Egg yolks make pastry cream rich and they give the cream just a little body once combined with milk. Texture-wise, egg yolks alone make thinner pastry cream but smoother.
The Role of Gelatin in Pastry Cream
You can also thicken pastry cream and provide the structure by adding a mixture of gelatin and water. (See the recipe for details.) If you’re not a fan of gelatin, definitely use whole eggs instead.
The Role of Chocolate in Pastry Cream
When making chocolate pastry cream using chocolate chips (not fine quality chocolate), it helps thicken the cream a little more. You see, manufacturers add thickeners like gum to chocolate chips to help hold their shape during baking. When adding chocolate of any kind, your pastry cream will become slightly thicker. However, the chocolate will thicken the pastry cream as much as gelatin. Therefore, feel free use some gelatin in chocolate pastry cream as well.
When to Add Gelatin
You can add the gelatin mixture once the pastry cream is done cooking. It doesn’t matter if the pastry cream is hot or warm. If the pastry is cold and has already set, it’s still not too late to fold in the gelatin mixture. Either way, once you add the gelatin, you’ll need to refrigerate the pastry cream until it is set.
The How and Why of Tempering Eggs
You’ve already read about tempering eggs in the lesson about Eggs and Baking. However, let’s refresh this subject and how it applies to pastry cream.
When making pastry cream, or even pudding, you add a small portion of hot milk and sugar mixture to room temperature egg-starch/flour mixture. This is done a little at a time so that you do not scramble the eggs. Adding the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture slowly increases the temperature of the eggs slowly. If you add the hot mixture all at once, your eggs will scramble. As mentioned above, the process of adding the hot milk mixture to the eggs slowly is called, “tempering” the eggs.
Also, if your egg mixture is cold when you add the hot milk-sugar mixture, the drastic temperature difference would most certainly scramble the eggs. Tempering eggs is even more important when using egg whites. However, when using egg yolks alone, you can still scramble the eggs.
Once the two mixtures are combined, if you allow the pastry cream to get too hot, it will also scramble the eggs or egg yolks. The mixture begins to thicken at about 145⁰F. Once it reaches about 160⁰F, the egg yolks begin to solidify or coagulate. You do not want that to happen or they will scramble. Therefore, if you have an instant-read thermometer nearby, start testing the pastry cream often for doneness once it reaches 145⁰F. However, using a thermometer is not mandatory. You can test it for doneness another way.
How to Test for Doneness
You may have read other recipes suggesting that you cook pudding or pastry cream until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. This is true. However, not everyone explains how thick that coating should be. Let’s face it, if you were to pour heavy whipping cream over a spoon, it would coat the back of a spoon. What you want to see is for pastry cream or pudding to coat the back of a spoon long enough. If you use your finger to draw a line through the coating, the line should remain on the spoon. You want it to remain on the spoon permanently, not just a few seconds. (See below photo.)
Double Boiler, Bain Marie, or Saucepan
If you are notorious for making lumpy pudding or pastry cream, use a bain marie (a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water not touching the bowl) or a double boiler. Using a bain marie or double boiler takes double the time to cook, but it guarantees a lump-free pastry cream.
If you use a saucepan, know that it is the fastest method. When using a saucepan, stir the pastry cream using a silicone spatula and be sure to scrape all of the corners of the saucepan. If your pastry cream turns out lumpy (because you didn’t stir the entire bottom or you stopped stirring completely), puree the pastry cream using a handheld or countertop blender. Then return the pastry cream to the saucepan and stove and cook and stir until thick, if not already.
Strain or Not to Strain
If you notice a few pieces of scrambled egg in your pastry cream, feel free to strain it. Sometimes you may not stir or scrape every part of the saucepan. It’s okay. However, once you’ve made this recipe a few times, you’ll be able to skip the straining step completely!
You can use half of the specified vanilla extract and half whatever extract you would like to use. Banana extract is a popular flavor. LorAnn Oils offers an extensive list of flavorings and emulsions, some natural, some not, and others are a mixture of artificial and natural ingredients. They range from strawberry cheesecake to caramel. You can buy them on Amazon, but I suggest to purchase the 4-ounce size. The 1-dram size is ridiculously small. It only contains about 1 teaspoon. Be sure to add just a tiny bit to start because some of LorAnn flavorings are super potent. Potent emulsions are labeled as such. They are not alcohol-based like vanilla extract. So, they won’t cook out easily like alcohol-based extracts.
Obviously, there are some flavors that will not compliment vanilla. In these cases, use only the flavor of choice. In other cases use half vanilla and half say, banana or even chocolate extract. I wouldn’t add any vanilla to any citrus flavoring though. However, caramel goes well with vanilla too.
Another option is to use liqueur to replace the extract. You can add a little chocolate liqueur or coffee liqueur. How about an orange or lemon liqueur? Be creative!
You have multiple choices in this recipe. Do you wish to use whole eggs or just egg yolks? Think about your use of the pastry cream. If you’ll be eating it plain, skip the egg whites and go for richness and a silky, smooth texture, without any gelatin. Will you use it as a cake filling? If so, be sure to make it nice and thick using gelatin, or at least whole eggs. You really don’t notice the texture too much when it is between layers of cake. But perfection is something for which you should strive.
Which pan will you use to make your pastry cream: bain marie, double boiler, or directly in a saucepan?
Will you add additional flavors besides vanilla? Or will you go for a completely different flavor?
You really can’t go wrong. Pastry cream is an amazing treat no matter how it turns out! So, let’s get started!
Make either of the below recipes using your desired flavoring:
If you’re a low-carb dieter or have a low-carb dieter as a guest, you can make this recipe:
Keto Banana Pastry Cream. However, it is not a good lesson for tempering eggs. It only contains 1 egg yolk.
Did you know?
If you omit the starch in this recipe, you can make a sauce to top slices of cake like sponge cake, pound cake, and other desserts. It’s called Crème Anglaise. You can even use this sauce to plate desserts. For plating, add the sauce to the outside of the serving dish to prevent already moist desserts from becoming soggy.
Once you master pastry cream, you can make any homemade pudding or custard. See the Pudding and Custard Recipe Category. Currently, there are over 45 recipes.