3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together 2 1/2 cups of the milk, the sugar, salt, and the vanilla bean. (If you’re using vanilla extract, add it at the end.) Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch, flour, and egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup milk.
Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the egg yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning to scrambled eggs when you add them to the simmering milk.
Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the remaining simmering milk. Doing this through a strainer will help prevent lumps later. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens.
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine sieve. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract (if you’re using it). If you’re going to flavor the pastry cream with chocolate or some other flavor, this is the time to do it (see variations below).
Rub a piece of butter over the surface of the cream, top with a piece of plastic wrap (make sure it touches the top of the pastry cream so it doesn’t develop a skin), then refrigerate until cool.
To complete, fold the whipped cream into the cooled pastry cream.
Notes: This base recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar, which makes a pastry cream that’s just barely sweet. If you’re planning to use the pastry cream for a pie filling and you want it to be sweeter, increase the sugar to 3/4 cup.
Pastry cream will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days. After that it may start to weep.
If you want the pastry cream to be sliceable, as for a cream pie, don’t fold in the whipped cream. The recipe will yield 3 cups of pastry cream in that case. With whipped cream it will yield 5 cups.
Butterscotch Pastry Cream: Add 1/4 teaspoon butter-rum flavor and/or 1 cup (6 ounces) butterscotch chips to the pastry cream after straining, stirring until the chips have melted.
Caramel Pastry Cream: Add 3/4 cup chopped caramel (7 1/2 ounces, or 21 to 23 unwrapped individual caramels) to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth.
Chocolate Pastry Cream: Add 1 cup (6 ounces) chopped chocolate to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth.
Hazelnut Pastry Cream: Omit the butter and increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 3/4 cup (8 1/4 ounces) praline paste to the hot, strained pastry cream, stirring until combined.
Orange Pastry Cream: Increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 1 teaspoon orange extract; 1/4 teaspoon orange oil; or 3 tablespoons orange zest to the hot, strained pastry cream.
Peanut Butter Pastry Cream: Add 3/4 cup (7 1/4 ounces) smooth peanut butter to the hot pastry cream, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth. If you’re using a natural or freshly-made peanut butter, omit the butter from the recipe, or the pastry cream will be greasy.
Pistachio Pastry Cream: Omit the butter and increase the sugar to 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces). Add 3/4 cup (8 1/4 ounces) pistachio paste, or blanched pureed pistachio meats.