Serious Eats: Sweets

Sweet Technique: How to Make Pastry Cream

[Photograph: Lauren Weisenthal]

Pastry cream is the unsung hero of the dessert world. You may know it best as the filling in your cream puff, the "cream" in a Boston Cream pie, or the "pudding" in banana cream pie. It's especially worshipped by French pastry chefs; I challenge you to order something from a p√Ętisserie that doesn't contain it. Simply put, pastry cream makes good desserts better with its creamy, oozy richness, by adding flavor and smooth texture to anything it touches.

Beyond adding incredible creamy texture and richness to desserts, pastry cream is also a great vehicle for flavor. Much like creme anglaise (the base used to make ice cream), the milk for pastry cream may be steeped with spices, herbs, espresso, or vanilla bean to impart flavor, or mixed with melted chocolates, extracts, or nut pastes. Its versatility provides cooks the ability to inject subtle flavor into desserts and pastries. With little effort and some imagination, ordinary looking desserts can be enhanced with unexpected flavors.

When making and using pastry cream remember these important tips:

Once you have mastered the technique of making pastry cream, the sky is the limit to what you can slather it on or between, or what you'll inject it into. I love it as a base for fruit tarts, a filling for eclairs, napoleons, strudel, and jalousie, and there's nothing as amazing as a yeasted doughnut, still warm from the fryer, pumped full of pastry cream. Here's a recipe for vanilla to get you started, and a chocolate variation as well.

Get the Recipe

Chocolate Pastry Cream

About the author: Lauren Weisenthal has logged many hours working in restaurant kitchens and bakeries of Brooklyn and Manhattan. She is a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking and Pastry Arts programs at the French Culinary Institute. You can follow her on Twitter at @evillagekitchen.

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