Its delicious and extremely simple. Fairly quick too!
You will need:
Step 1: Mise En Place!
16 oz of Milk. Whole milk will give you a very rich cream and skim might be a little more forgiving on your waistline. Any kind will do.
A teaspoon of vanilla x
.75oz (3/4 of an oz) of corn starch
4oz of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1.5 oz of butter, cold.
Combine the sugar and starch in one bowl separate from the eggs. Place the milk salt and vanilla in a pot, place it on the range and turn the heat to a medium setting. You do not want your milk to scald or boil.
Step 2: The Sweet Process
When the milk is warm and getting hot mix together the eggs and sugar/starch mixture in a large bowl. The bow will need to be big enough to hold the hot milk as well as this mixture. With a whisk beat the eggy mix until it is a light color and well blended.
Turn off you milk as it should be rather hot and steaming by now. You may want a helping hand because the next step can be tricky if you're not used to it. We are going to temper the egg mixture.
Tempering a a process by which a certain something, in our case eggs and milk, creates thermal equilibrium. By that I mean the milk is hot and the eggs, unless you left them out a while, are probably cold. If you poured the eggs straight into the milk the proteins would seize and instead of a homogeneous emulsion you would have hot sweet scrambled eggs! We don't want that so we are going to make sure to line up all the fats and proteins in the right order at the right temperature so we can have a smooth and well textured product.
If you don't have anyone to help, pour the hot milk into a container that will not overheat as you hold it and preferably has a handle. Pour a little bit of the hot milk into the bowl with the egg mixture and wisk until combined. Repeat. When you have added half of the milk begin pour it all in at once to the eggs while whisking vigorously. Once this has been combined and is frothy pour it back into the original pot and turn your range heat to medium high.
Important: Rinse out the bowl you have just used, you will need it later. Place it in the freezer.
Step 3: Thick As Thieves
With your whisk move the mixture around the pot. You want to keep it moving so that nothing sticks to the bottom and so that it heats evenly. At this stage scrambled eggs are still possible and you don't want that. The starch needs heat to help it thicken up. The proteins in both the milk and eggs will also help to thicken this cream. As it heats, you will notice a slight thickening and the frothy bubbles will start to disappear. This is a good sign. Continue whisking a bit more vigorously now as the cream comes to a boil. Moving the whisk in a back a forth motion instead of around the pot as if stirring will help facilitate heat transfer through the cream.
The cream will being to boil and be very, very thick at this point. Turn off your heat and REMOVE it from the hot place on your range. If you have an electric range it will still be hot for a few minutes and that will cause the cream to burn if you're not careful.
Keep whisking to cool down the cream some.
This is where you add the butter. Butter is amazing. The butter added to this creates a smooth and rich mouth feel but also, with its fat molecules trapped in the cream, helps the cream to set when cooled in the fridge.
Whisk until the butter has melted. At this stage you may want to strain out the pastry cream if you have any scrambled egg bits or lumps, but you should have smooth and delicious cream. I recommend tasting the cream because hot pastry cream is really really really good! But don't burn your mouth.
Step 4: Set It Up
Cool the cream for 2 hours or overnight. It depends on when you need it. You will have a firmer product to work with once it has cooled and it is easier to pipe, spoon, or spread at that stage. Fill your eclairs, cream puffs, doughnuts, tart shell or use it as a cake filling.
Sometimes I get out a little bowl of the hot pastry cream and pour in some granola and nom with pleasure. But that's just me.