This Caramel Pastry Cream is smooth, creamy and the perfect filling for tarts, puff pastry, danishes or even parfaits!
It should come as no surprise that I originally created this version of pastry cream as a donut filling!
Pastry cream is one of the hardest working recipes in a baker’s arsenal! Just like almond cream, it can be baked into danishes; used as a filling for tarts, éclairs, or profiteroles; lightened with whipped cream as a filling for trifles, donuts, parfaits or pies; or even used to make German Buttercream!
This is a variation of my Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream, but instead of adding additional flavoring at the end, which is so expected, we are making the caramel from the very start! It is slightly less sweet and has a delicate caramel flavor. You can add more caramel sauce at the end while it is warm, if you want a more intense caramel flavor.
Gahh! There are lumps in my caramel pastry cream!
Along with burning or undercooking it, lumps are a common downfall. There are a few stages where you need to be on high-lump-alert!
- Adding sugar to the eggs too early will denature the proteins in the yolks and create lumps. You basically have the same effect as cooking the eggs when they sit in salt or sugar. These lumps will never come out. When it looks like your milk is about to come to a boil, whisk in the sugar and the cornstarch. This will protect the eggs during tempering
- When you temper your milk into the eggs, slowly, and in a controlled fashion, add the hot milk while whisking. This allows the eggs to come up to the temperature of the milk without cooking them. Look, ma! No lumps!
- While the pastry cream is cooking: Whisk constantly! Do not allow bits of pastry cream to coagulate and then burn. Don't forget the edges of the pot!
- Overcooking: if you overcook your pastry cream or you cook it at too high of a heat, you will get lumps.
- Cool it quickly! I pour mine out on a plastic wrap lined baking sheet, spread it out, then cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn’t develop a skin. Poke some holes in the top plastic to let the steam escape and then pop it in the refrigerator!
Now that you have a lump-free pastry cream, one last note of advice! Before you use pastry cream, you need to “refresh it” or “condition” it. All this means is you need to beat it so that it becomes smooth and silky. This won’t get any lumps out but it will create a more pleasant product to eat and work with. Don’t try folding unconditioned pastry cream into whipped cream. It’s misery.
You can condition it with a stand mixer or by hand in a bowl with a rubber spatula.
Caramel Pastry Cream
Prepare Pastry Cream:
- Heat milk, sugar and vanilla bean to warm. Set aside.
- Make a caramel with the 400g sugar and take it to a dark amber. Whisk in the warmed milk mixture. Bring to a boil.
- In a bowl whisk together eggs, yolks and remaining sugar until pale yellow and doubled in volume. Whisk in cornstarch or pastry cream powder.
- When milk caramel mixture comes to a boil, slowly pour it into your egg mixture. Adding a little at a time while whisking.
- Return mixture to the pot and whisk over medium heat until it begins to thicken. Boil 1 minute while constantly whisking.
- Pour out onto plastic lined half-sheet pan, cover with another sheet of plastic wrap, poke holes and cool.
How to Prepare Pastry Cream for Use:
- Before you use pastry cream, you need to “refresh it” or “condition” it. All this means is you need to beat it so that it becomes smooth and silky. This won’t get any lumps out but it will create a more pleasant product to eat and work with.
- Place the desired amount of pastry cream in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth. You don’t want to beat it too long or it will loosen and the cornstarch will lose some of its hold and it will not firm back up when chilled. This can lead to loose, unruly fillings.