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Your Pastry Cream Can Do Better

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Every week, baking expert Alice Medrich will be going rogue on Food52—with shortcuts, hacks, and game-changing recipes.

Today: Learn the secret to the smoothest, brightest pastry cream of your life. Your éclairs will thank you for it.

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Pastry cream—crème pâtissière if you are classically trained—is a workhorse in the French pastry kitchen. It’s the creamy, rich, starch-thickened custard that fills real éclairs and the liaison between ripe berries and a tender buttery crust in a French-style fresh fruit tart. Plain or flavored (with citrus, chocolate or cocoa, liqueurs, etc.) and with or without the addition of some whipped cream folded in, pastry cream is the filling for all kinds of cakes and pastries and even a base for buttercream and soufflés. 

It’s normally made with all-purpose wheat flour, cornstarch, or a combination of the two. I used to swear by the latter combination until the day I tried superfine white rice flour and produced the best crème pâtissière of all! Think thick and silky-smooth with the clean, bright flavors of fresh eggs and milk. This is because rice flour lets the flavors of the other ingredients shine, rather than mute them the way wheat flour and most starches do. The results are divine. (I discovered the seemingly endless virtues of rice flour while testing for my latest book, Flavor Flours.)

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And even the method here is streamlined—no need to temper the egg yolks so long as you have a pot with a heavy bottom. You can use and flavor this pastry cream as you would any other.

More: Use pastry cream to fill this Brown Butter Tart Crust, then top it with fresh fruit.

Just one more thing: To get the silky texture promised, you will need superfine rice flour. Use Authentic Foods superfine white rice flour or use the Erawan brand of Thai white rice flour (which is even finer). The latter comes in a plastic bag with red lettering—the bag with green lettering is sweet or glutinous rice flour, which is not what you want here. 

Vanilla Rice Pastry Cream

Adapted from Flavor Flours (Artisan 2014) by Alice Medrich

Makes 1 cup

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (13 grams) superfine rice flour or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons (13 grams) Thai rice flour
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks

See the full recipe (and print it) here.

Pick up a copy of Alice's new book Flavor Flours, which includes nearly 125 recipes -- from Double Oatmeal Cookies to Buckwheat Gingerbread -- made with wheat flour alternatives like rice flour, oat flour, corn flour, sorghum flour, and teff (not only because they're gluten-free, but for an extra dimension of flavor, too). 

Photo by Mark Weinberg


See more from the illustrated biographies of 16.5 global desserts

Tags: baking, dessert, pastry cream, cream, sweets