I’ve only discovered the joys of patisserie cream recently. In fact, up until about a year ago, I would have told you that I really hated custard. I grew up with a great uncle who owned an Italian bakery, so I grew up with a strong appreciation for really good bread – and, alas, a complete and utter loathing for cannoli, Italian sponge cakes, and chou pastry with custard in it. I don’t know what it is about Italian-style custards, but I just can’t stand them. And believe me, I’ve tried to like them – many, many times.
I’m also not at all keen on English-style custards. The whole vanilla slice thing makes me shudder. How can people even eat that? And I’ve made Portuguese tarts, out of sheerest curiosity, which everyone loved except for me…
So when we were told that we would be making crème patissière at the croissant class I went to last year, my heart sank, because now I, too, would be able to make custards that made me feel vaguely queasy. But, being the good and obedient student I am, I dutifully made my crème pat, tasted it – and was astonished to discover that it actually tasted good. A miracle! Or possibly, just a different recipe.
Honestly, I don’t know why this recipe works for me, but it really does. And, having found the one custard recipe in the world that I like, I promptly had to… go and change it. Yeah, I don’t understand the logic of that, either. But I have friends who can’t eat dairy, so what can you do? And, as it turns out, the almond-milk version of this custard is surprisingly good. Who knew?
Maybe I should pop down the road to my local bakery and give the cannoli another try.
Your shopping list
For plain, vanilla pastry cream
500 ml almond milk
1 vanilla pod
125 g caster sugar
100 g egg yolks (from about 5-6 eggs)
40 g custard powder or cornflour (custard powder, not to be confused with custard mix, is basically cornflour with a little yellow colouring anyway. It thickens the pastry cream and makes it look prettier)
25 g cocoa butter
For light, fruity pastry cream
1 tsp orange flower water
2 tbsp (40 ml) peach schnapps
For passionfruit and chocolate pastry cream
200 ml almond milk (extra)
150 g dark chocolate, chopped
50 g freeze dried passionfruit powder
Now what will you do with it?
Pour 400 g of almond milk into a saucepan and add 100g of the caster sugar. Split the vanilla bean lengthways, and scrape out the seeds into the pot. Add the pod, too. Bring slowly to the boil, so that the vanilla has time to infuse.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg-yolks, the custard powder, the rest of the sugar and the final 100 g of almond milk. I’d recommend a tall, deep bowl, so that you can rest the sieve on it later without having it sitting half in the custard.
Line a baking tray with glad wrap, letting quite a lot of it spill over the sides.
When the milk comes to the bowl, pour it slowly through a sieve into the bowl, whisking as you do so. Now, count how many arms you have and see how that works for you… Personally, I recommend a husband or a flatmate for the role of pouring or holding the sieve, but if you are lacking such accessories, you can pour the milk through the sieve in three batches, whisking madly in between each batch – what you don’t want is to be pouring the hot milk over the egg mixture without getting it moving pretty fast, or you are likely to wind up with scrambled eggs.
Return the egg and milk mixture to the saucepan, and bring to the boil, stirring constantly, until it thickens, comes away from the bottom of the pan a bit, and finally boils. A wooden spoon or a spatula works best for this, but giving the whole thing a quick whisk at about the point you start finding bits of the custard thickening up is a good plan, too.
If you are making vanilla custard
Remove from the heat immediately once the custard boils, and scrape out onto the prepared tray. Cover closely with clingwrap, and refrigerate until set.
If you are making light fruity custard
Add the orange flower water and peach schnapps just as the custard comes to the boil, stir in really fast, remove from the heat, and scrape out onto tray and cover as above.
If you are making chocolate and passionfruit custard
Remove from the heat and sift in the passionfruit powder. Stir in well, along with the extra almond milk and the chocolate. Return to the heat and cook slowly until the chocolate is melted and the mixture returns to the boil. Pour onto prepared tray, cover, etc.
When your custards are cool, it will be fairly straightforward to use a spatula to scrape them into a piping bag. You can then use this to fill chou pastry or tart cases, or on Danishes, of course. This should be a reasonably thickly set custard – not solid, but it will sit where it’s put, if you know what I mean.
You could use just about any kind of dairy or non-dairy milk, so long as you liked the flavour. I think oat milk would be fairly weird, and quinoa milk likewise, but most nut milks should work, and coconut milk could be quite fabulous, especially with the passionfruit powder.
This recipe is dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free and low fructose, but obviously contains nuts and eggs. You could avoid the nuts by going back to a dairy milk, but I think the eggs are sort of compulsory for custard.
In terms of flavours, the world is your oyster, but I wouldn’t recommend making oyster custard unless you’re Heston Blumenthal, and you know what, even then I’d have my doubts. Any freeze-dried fruit powder would be fun, of course, and you could make a plain chocolate pastry cream by upping the chocolate to 200 g, which would be super-rich but absolutely worth it. It might be fun to do a white chocolate custard, if white chocolate is your thing, though you wouldn’t be very dairy-free at that point. Just about any flavouring would work for these custards, though – citrus zests, essences, liqueurs – be imaginative!
Two years ago: Linzer Torte, Traditional and Sydney Road-style
Three years ago: Food on TV: Heston Blumenthal’s Victorian Feast