For The Love of Pastry Cream

I have been trying my darnedest to lay off of sugar this new year, and so far I’ve done pretty well. Over the last few weeks I’ve been scheming about how to cut loose come Valentine’s Day.  As is typical with me when it comes to food-related decisions, I just couldn’t make up my mind, but I knew I wanted to make this one count.

“I’ll make a Boston cream pie for the two of us to share! Wait, Banana Splits! Oh god, what about a lemon meringue pie with like 10 inches of meringue???”

After a week of torturing myself, I decided that I would take two of my favorite dessert components, salted caramel and pastry cream, and combine them into one dessert, both delicious and beautiful.  So, here is my very special Valentine’s concoction; Salted Carmel, Banana, and Rum Custard Parfaits with Whipped Cream and Shaved Dark Chocolate. It’s a win-win-win.

For The Love of Pastry Cream

For the Salted Caramel:

1 C. sugar (don’t use sucanat or cane juice or any of that mumbo jumbo.  Just use plain old granulated sugar)

1/4 C. water

1 C. heavy cream

4 T. (half a stick) unsalted butter

3/4 tsp. grey salt or coarse sea salt

Place the sugar and water into a heavy-bottomed pot with high sides over medium to medium-high heat. Gently swirl the pan occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Do not stir. Allow the mixture to bubble vigorously for 5 or 6 minutes, until the sugar begins to turn a light golden color. At this point, you want to keep a very close eye on the mixture, as it will take only another minute or two to finish.  Continue to swirl the pan often until the sugar is fragrant and a deep amber color.

At this point, reduce the heat to low and add the cream.  The mixture will bubble up vigorously, so be aware.  Whisk gently until the cream is well combined.  Next, add the butter and continue to whisk until it melts fully and then turn off the heat.  Lastly, stir in the salt.  The mixture will still be very hot, so be sure to let it cool for one hour before serving or transferring to a glass jar.

This recipe makes nearly a pint of the caramel (far more than you need for the parfaits), but it will keep in the fridge for up to a month for drizzling on ice cream, apples, steak, whatever suits your fancy.

Salted Caramel - For The Love of Pastry Cream

On to the pastry cream: Many of you have probably never made this simple custard.  While it’s a classic component of many desserts, it fell out of favor some years ago and has yet to experience its renaissance. In my mind, however, pastry cream is one of the most rewarding techniques to be learned by anyone truly interested in dessert making, especially in our world of boxed dessert mixes containing mysterious ingredients.  I assure you, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

For the Rum-Spiked Pastry Cream:

2 C. milk

3 Tbsp. tapioca starch (corn starch will work, too)

1 tsp. real vanilla or almond extract

pinch of salt

4 egg yolks

1/2 C. sugar

2 Tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

2 Tbsp. rum

Rum and Pastry Cream

Place the milk, the vanilla or almond extract, and the salt into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

While the milk warms, combine the egg yolks, sugar, and tapioca starch and whisk until the mixture becomes a pale yellow color, about one minute.

Once the milk is hot (it should bubble at the edges and steam when stirred), scoop out 1/2 a cup and whisk it slowly into the egg yolk mixture. Next, take the warm egg and milk mixture and add it back to the pot on the stove.  Whisk (almost) constantly for 2-4 minutes, or until the mixture becomes considerably thicker and just barely begins to bubble. It should essentially go from looking like egg nog to looking like pudding. Once it gets here, remove from the heat and continue to whisk for another 30 seconds to be safe.

Lastly, stir in the butter bits and the rum. Pour into a medium bowl and allow to cool, undisturbed, for 20 minutes.  Before refrigerating, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Chill for at least two hours. Pastry cream will keep for up to one week.

Additionally you will need: heavy cream, bananas, and a little chocolate for garnish.

Assemble the dessert in half pint mason jars or other clear, small glasses. Spoon an overflowing tablespoon of salted caramel into the bottom of each glass. Top with 10-12 banana slices and the spoon over 3 heaping tablespoons of the pastry cream.  Top with a few dollops of whipped cream, a small drizzle of caramel and some dark chocolate shavings. Die and go to heaven.

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