crème pâtissiére: oo la la!

The cronut dough is resting in the fridge, waiting for tomorrow’s gluttonous fry-fest. In the meantime, I pondered whether to take my cronuts full Monty, and fill them with the prescribed pastry cream. Since I won’t be eating these little parcels of diabetic deliciousness, I voted a hearty “Aye!” – which then posed a problem. There is no recipe given for pastry cream, which means (a) try to find some in a store or (b) make some at home. This is a food blog, not a grocery store blog; you know what I chose. Lovely vanilla custard and anal-retentive scaling notes after the jump.

Crème pâtissière, being French, should be a sin enjoyed sparingly. It should be a silken, creamy mass that does not become hard or gelatinized after chilling. It should not be unbearably sweet, so as to highlight an actual flavor rather than a sensation. I considered a variety of pastry cream recipes, looking at French recipes on YouTube in particular. As a custard, it takes a bit of technique to bring the elements together in a fashion that does not result in sweetened, scrambled eggs or a lumpy mess tasting of flour. Since this is my kitchen and I’m a nerd, I wanted a base recipe that could be scaled up at will. What I ended up with is a conglomeration of several recipes, as follows (makes ~3/4cup):

100g Whole Milk
1/3t Vanilla Extract
1 Large Egg Yolk
19g Granulated Sugar
5g All-Purpose Flour

Combine milk and vanilla in a saucepan* over medium heat. While the milk is warming, whisk the egg yolk, sugar and flour vigorously until the mixture is smooth and colored a light, lemony yellow. Once the milk is steaming, pour it slowly into the egg mixture as you continue to whisk, fully incorporating the milk into the eggs.

This is now custard – return it to the saucepan and whisk the custard over medium heat until large bubbles begin to form, then turn the heat to low and continue whisking until the custard thickens. Once you’ve reached the consistency of pudding, whisk in a pinch of salt**, turn off the heat and transfer the custard to a bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, making sure that the wrap touches the top of the custard and pressing out any air bubbles so the custard doesn’t form a skin on top. Chill the custard until you’re ready to use it.

Crème pâtissière is one of those things that seem technique-heavy and complicated, until you actually do it and find that it’s stupidly easy. And surprisingly good for being so stupidly easy. I don’t have a sweet tooth and I hate vanilla pudding; when I tasted a bit of the warm custard to check the level of sweetness, I was shocked that it was so good. I wanted to grab some strawberries, make a tart crust and slather the crust in it. I’ll probably do that when strawberries are in season again.

If there had to be a downside, it would simply be a question of cost – a 3/4 cup serving of pastry cream cost me $0.41. A serving of custard can be purchased for less in a store – but the taste will be profoundly inferior. As a filling for cronuts, it hits the mark nicely – minus the icing (for which I have no proportion of powdered sugar-to-lemon-juice, yet), I can make six filled cronuts for $2.11. I could probably buy *half* of a cronut for that much, at some of the trendier bakeries in LA.

*that is large enough to hold however much pastry cream you need to make; remember, this is a scalable recipe

**This wasn’t done in the American recipes, but it was in the French recipes. It is optional, but highly recommended – the French know what they’re doing when it comes to desserts.

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