I’ve received some questions about pastry cream, and my vegan pastry cream recipe, that reminded me that just because I know what I’m talking about doesn’t mean you know what I’m talking about – unless I make it very clear.
So here’s a little Q&A I hope will clear things up.
Q. What is pastry cream?
A. Pastry cream is a cooked custard. Anytime you see a pastry with something on top, or something inside, that looks like vanilla pudding, that’s probably pastry cream (sometimes, of course, it may actually be pudding!). You’ll find it in the middle of Danish pastries, under the fruit on fresh fruit tarts, and inside donuts and eclairs.
Traditionally, pastry cream is made on the stove top by heating up milk and sugar, adding a starch to thicken the mixture, and then adding eggs to make it rich and creamy. This basic recipe can be enhanced with extracts, chocolates, nut pastes or other flavoring agents, but basically it’s just that simple.
Q. That doesn’t sound vegan . . .
A. No, it definitely isn’t. But I found veganizing pastry cream to be pretty darn easy.
First, substitute a vegan non-dairy milk for the dairy milk. I use unsweetened soy milk, which has enough fat in it to be pretty reliable in baking. You can use something like rice milk, which is much lower in fat, but results may vary.
Then, substitute vegan cream cheese for the eggs. I used a 1:1 ratio; the formula called for 2 ounces of eggs, so I used 2 ounces of cream cheese.
Q. When you talk about ounces, are you talking about weight or volume?
A. The pastry cream recipe uses weight, because it’s a far more accurate way to measure all but the smallest amounts.
For example, if you measure flour by dipping your measuring cup into the flour canister and scooping it out, the flour will become compacted in the cup and you’ll get more than if you fluff it up and spoon it into the cup. If you weigh it out instead, you’ll get the amount the recipe calls for, no matter how you scoop it.
You can weigh or measure the milk – it should work out the same. That is, a liquid ounce of milk should weigh an ounce.
Q. What kind of lemon and orange oil are you recommending for flavoring?
A. Citrus oils are found on the grocery shelf with the vanilla extract. Be sure to check the label before you buy, and make sure the only ingredients are vegetable oil (often sunflower oil) and citrus oil.
I recommend replacing the lid of the oil bottle with a dropper, which makes it easy and convenient to add just a drop or two to your mixture.
Q. Why would I add citrus oil?
A. A couple drops of orange and/or lemon oil adds a delicious little something-something that enhances any dish calling for vanilla flavoring. Give it a try – and let us know how it went!