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Vanilla Pastry Cream - Creme Patissiere

The traditional creamy base for French-style fruit tarts. Also delicious as a homemade version of vanilla pudding.

For more information on making fruit tarts, visit the cooking class that inspired this recipe.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups milk (whole milk works best here)

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more if needed to dot the top for storage (see below)

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat with the lid askew until piping hot. Stir occasionally and do not let it scorch.  When hot, turn the heat to low and put the lid on.  

2. Use an electric mixer or stand mixer to blend the egg yolks together.  Beat in the sugar and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until the mixture turns pale yellow and "forms the ribbon."

3. Add the flour to the egg mixture and beat to combine.

4. Temper the eggs with the hot milk: With the mixer running, begin adding hot milk to the mixture, a few drops at a time, mixing it in thoroughly before adding more.  Add a few more drops, mix them in, then add a small stream, then a larger stream, etc., mixing thoroughly after each addition.  This gradual approach gently warms the eggs as it incorporates the hot milk into them without scrambling them.  When all the milk has been added, the outside of the bowl should feel warm to the touch.

5. Stir the egg/milk mixture into a saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high.  Use a wire whisk to stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan in all directions as you bring the mixture to a boil.  As it heats up, it will become noticeably thicker and more difficult to whisk. When it begins to boil, it may seem briefly lumpy. Turn the heat to medium-low and continue to stir for about 2 minutes to cook the flour and make everything smooth. The pastry cream will now look and feel exactly like vanilla pudding.

6. Remove the pan from the heat and use a rubber spatula to stir in the butter.  When the butter is completely melted and incorporated into the cream, stir in the vanilla extract.

7. If not serving right away, scoop into a storage container and dot the top with about 1 Tablespoon of butter cut into tiny pieces.  Scatter the pieces across the top of the pastry cream; as the butter melts, it will spread to cover the top and prevent a skin from forming.  Cool completely, then cover and store in the refrigerator.

Make-ahead note: you can store Pastry Cream in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.