Friends, I'm no expert. I don't pretend to know everything about anything when it comes to baking. I'm self-taught, a piecemealer. My dad, a former chef, taught me the basics, like knife skills, making roux, and how long to cook a chicken. But anything sweet went unmentioned. Don't get me wrong, everything food-related in my life has come from him. But the baking, that had to come from Grandma- queen of cookies. Christmas at their mountain house meant stacks on stacks of cookies, all different varieties. Magic cookie bars, brandy rings, chocolate covered cherries, date nut balls, holiday jingles, peanut butter blossoms, mexican wedding cakes. It was all there, and it was all the best thing I've ever seen to date.
From then, I’ve taught myself. I’ve scoured blogs. I’ve watched shows. I’ve flipped through cookbooks. I’ve examined pictures. I’ve eaten. And eaten and eaten. And I’ve loved every bit of it. I love learning the history behind a certain food, and wondering how the original chef even thought of such an idea. I love reading a recipe and decidedly winging it and later tasting the mind-blowing result. I love it all.
But like I said, I am no expert. I know how to make certain things really well, while others just flop right in front of me. I know how to ice a cake, but yeast doesn’t play well in my kitchen. Lately, however, I have determined that if I’m ever going to do this for real in this world, I better learn my basics. And at the top of the list: pastry cream.
Pastry cream has always intimidated me. I’ve heard tales on tales of its finicky, curdling nature. As I researched I found all kinds of variations: more yolks, more milk, corn starch vs no corn starch, milk vs heavy cream. What’s an amateur to do?! I chose one and I made it and it failed. The next morning I chose another and I made it and it worked. There were sparkles coming out of my eyes.
If I was an organized and methodical person, I’d probably keep this stuff around all the time and add different flavors and eat it off a spoon. I’m really not that kind of person, but it is definitely that good.
Fear not the pastry cream, friends. Learn your basics.
(slightly adapted from Brown Eyed Baker)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar, separated
- Pinch salt
- 5 egg yolks
- 3 Tbs flour
- 4 Tbs cold butter
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Heat the milk, 6 Tbs sugar, and salt in a saucepan to simmering point. Meanwhile, whisk yolks in a separate bowl. Whisk in the remaining 2 Tbs of sugar until the mixture is creamy. Whisk in the flour until the mixture becomes pale and thick. When the milk reaches a simmer, slowly add to the yolk mixture, whisking the whole time. You’re trying to temper your eggs here. Make sure they don’t scramble! Return the whole mixture to the saucepan and simmer again, whisking constantly, for under a minute, until it is thick and glossy. Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Strain it all into another bowl and cover it with plastic wrap that touches the top of the pastry cream, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until set and then put it on everything you eat.
You’re no amateur, you.