Saturday, July 20, 2013

Vive Le Tour!

Sunday is the last day of Le Tour de France, when the riders will conclude the Tour in the city of lights with a twilight ride from Versailles to the Champs-Elysees! I can't wait! So in honor of this historic centennial race, I am planning a fabulous French menu complete with the epitome of French desserts, "Creme Patissiere" or "Pastry Cream!" Who wouldn't like a luscious dessert of sweet vanilla custard? This creamy concoction is so versatile and a staple of any baker's repertoire. You can fill eclairs, make millefeuilles (aka., Napoleons), use as a base for tarts, layer in cakes, make a trifle or mini-trifles, the list goes on and on. If that's not enough, you can swap out the vanilla for unsweetened cocoa powder, instant coffee powder, infuse the milk with tea, add citrus zest, replace some of the milk with fruit juice, or spice it up with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etc. You really need to know how to do this!

The biggest problem with Creme Patissiere is that there are so many recipes, which should you choose? Some call for cornstarch, some use flour instead, some use a combination of both, some add butter, some don't, some use a vanilla bean, some use vanilla extract, it's all so perplexing. But don't worry, I've tried them all - really!- and the most consistent recipe, that I've decided to be my staple, is from the Culinary Institute of America. It always comes out creamy and smooth and never too stiff or cornstarchy. You'll need two large bowls, one for the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture, one to make an ice bath (ice/cold water), and a medium saucepan to cook it, that's it! The best part of Creme Patissiere is that it's fast, about 15-20 minutes (not including the time it sits in the ice bath) and it's done. Just remember to make it ahead to allow time for it to chill in the refrigerator before serving. C'est bon!

Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream)

Makes about 2 cups


1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar (If you prefer a less sweet version, as I do, omit the 1/4 cup sugar in the cornstarch/eggyolk mixture.)
2 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean
2 tablespoons unsalted butter


Combine the cornstarch with 1/4 cup sugar (if using) in a mixing bowl and stir in 1/2 cup milk. Blend the egg yolks into the cornstarch mixture until completely smooth. Set aside.

Split the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Combine the vanilla bean and seeds with remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and the pinch of salt in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the vanilla to infuse the milk for about 10 minutes. 

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl big enough to allow the saucepan to rest in it.

When the milk is infused, remove the vanilla bean. Temper the egg mixture by gradually adding some of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly. When all the milk is incorporated to the egg mixture, return the mixture to the saucepan and continue cooking over medium heat, vigorously whisking, until the mixture just comes to a boil and the whisk leaves a trail in the pastry cream, about 3-5 minutes. As soon as the cream reaches this stage, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter. Transfer the pan to the ice bath. Stir occasionally until the pastry cream is cool, about 30 minutes.

Transfer the pastry cream to a storage container and cover the top with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Return it to it's creamy texture by stirring it with a whisk before using.


  1. This is the BEST thing I've ever made! Genius! Definitely a keeper!