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.)
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.
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).
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on Craftsy.com, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).