Every cook should have a good recipe for pastry cream in their repertoire. Rich vanilla pastry cream is the classic filling for cream puffs. Perfect served simply over fresh berries, in fruit tartlets or in a Boston cream pie.
Experiment with other flavors, such as instant coffee granules, rum or a liqueur. For pastry cream with a light almond flavor, add 3/4 tsp. almond extract along with the vanilla.
Plan ahead: It takes at least 35 minutes to make a vanilla custard filling. Make pastry cream well in advance, so it can chill thoroughly and thicken up. A hot or warm filling will make pastries soggy.
Secrets of success: Low heat, a heavy saucepan, constant stirring and patience are the keys to making the perfect vanilla pastry cream filling. It takes at least 20 to 25 minutes for the pastry cream to thicken. If you increase the cooking temperature to try to speed the process along, the mixture is likely to curdle. Stirring constantly, making sure to cover the entire bottom and the corners of the pan, prevents scorching and ensures that the mixture heats evenly.
Check for bubbles: It’s hard to see the first signs of boiling when stirring constantly. When you begin to feel a heavier drag on the spoon, start lifting the spoon up occasionally to check if any large bubbles are bursting at the top of the mixture. Keep cooking and stirring until large bubbles appear. Then boil and stir for 1 minute.
Cool quickly: The ice water bath is another aid to prevent curdling. It cools the pastry cream and stops the cooking quickly. Have it ready in advance. At this point it is important to stir only occasionally, not constantly. Too much stirring will break down the structure of the thickened pastry cream and result in a thin consistency.
Try the above quick and easy cream custard filling recipe to make fresh pastry cream filling at home.