Pastry cream or crème pâtissière is a pastry chef's signature filling. These sage words came from one of France's Meilleur Ouvrier Pastry chefs.
I asked him "why" because to me pastry cream is just pastry cream. Disappointed in my lack of appreciation, he told me: "Every pastry chef makes pastry cream, but how he makes it and what he flavors it with is his signature".
The Chef went on to explain how the texture should be creamy not grainy or lumpy, sweet but not overpowering, and flavored with the essence that most pleases the chef. He liked to put rum in his pastry cream – a lot of rum. Not entirely a rum fan (too many mojitos over the years, and too many nights over the toilet bowl)
I asked what else I could flavor the cream with. He suggested: fleur d'orange, an exotic vanilla, amaretto, cointreau, or lemon. I chose lemon to be my "signature" because I think it pairs nicely with fruit. And I prefer fruit desserts to everything except maybe a really decadent chocolate cake. Figs are in season and they are one of the sexiest fruits on the planet – fleshy and sweet with an intoxicating perfume. Pair them with creamy lemon-y pastry cream and you have kama sutra on a plate.
Makes 6 small tarts or one big tart
Sweet Short Pastry Dough 200g all-purpose flour, sifted
100g unsalted butter
5 ml cold water (or around 1-3 Tablespoons, depending on dough)
1 liter whole milk (4 cups)
1 vanilla bean
8 egg yolks
40 g cornstarch
50 g flour
Zest of 1 lemon
Pre-heat oven to 350˚F
Short Pastry: Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a whisk to incorporate. Cut in cold butter – you can use your finger tips to do this – pretend like you're counting money and squishing the butter and flour together to form a sand-like dough. Add egg and continue to cut in. Then add water, little by little, just until the dough comes together. Knead the dough a few times inside the bowl to make sure all is incorporated. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 10 - 15 minutes.
On a floured surface roll out dough to 1/4- inch and place in desired tart mold. Blind bake on 350˚F for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown with baking beads. Dough will shrink a lot unless you use baking beans.
Pastry Cream: In a medium pot put the milk, 1/2 the sugar, and vanilla bean (split and seeds scraped). Scald on medium high heat. While milk is scalding add the other 1/2 sugar to the egg yolks in a big bowl and beat by hand or with a hand mixer until tripled in volume, light in color, and ribbons form in the batter. Mix the flour and cornstarch into egg batter on low speed or by hand until smooth – no lumps.
Remove the vanilla bean from the scaled milk and pour into the egg mixture little by little. Add lemon zest. Strain back into the pot used to scald the milk and cook pastry cream on medium heat until it begins to boil, stirring with a whisk constantly. When bubbles make a "blub, blub" sound, it's done.
Remove from heat and pour into a shallow pan and spread out so it can cool quickly. Press a sheet of plastic wrap on top so no 'skin' will form. Chill. Spread or pipe pastry cream into tart shell and top with figs!