Pastry Cream and Fresh Fruit Tart

Take advantage of fresh fruit this season.

Crème pâtissière sounds exotic and hard to make, but truthfully, it’s essentially French for pudding. The difference between pastry cream and pudding is only the thickness of the finished custard; both are set by a combination of eggs and cornstarch, the latter of which makes this recipe almost foolproof. Once you master making pastry cream, you’ll find it addictively easy to use in many sweet treats. It’s the traditional filling for eclairs, excellent layered into a trifle and a favorite base for fresh fruit tarts.

A few tips for success: Don’t combine the sugar and eggs until the milk has started to heat. The sugar actually cooks the egg protein a bit if mixed together too soon. The best way to avoid the dreaded “pudding skin” from developing on top of the cream is to line a sheet tray with plastic wrap and pour the finished cream into it, wrapping it up entirely in a neat little package to chill.

Pastry Cream and Fresh Fruit Tart

Instead of discarding the vanilla bean pod once you’ve split and scraped it for this recipe, place it in a Mason jar with granulated sugar and you’ll have vanilla sugar in a month.

Yields | 1 tart |

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp plus ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, or ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • ¹⁄₃ cup cornstarch
  • 3 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1 9-inch prebaked graham cracker pie crust or tart shell
  • ½ cup apricot jam, divided
  • 1 qt fresh berries and other fruit

| Preparation | Cover a shallow cookie sheet with plastic wrap; set aside.

In a saucepot over low heat, combine milk, 2 Tbsp sugar, salt and seeds of vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, reserve for later inclusion.) Stir to dissolve salt and sugar. Keep over heat to reach a gentle simmer.

In a heatproof bowl, whisk remaining sugar and eggs. Continue whisking until eggs are a light lemony yellow. Add cornstarch and combine to form a thick paste. As milk mixture comes to a gentle simmer, ladle half of it into egg mixture while whisking to temper eggs. Pour entire warmed egg mix into saucepot, raise heat to medium and cook, whisking thoroughly, until mixture thickens and begins to bubble in center of pot, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off heat, add cold butter and stir until smooth. (Add vanilla extract now, if using.) Pour into prepared cookie sheet, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 2 days.

| To Serve | Whisk thickened custard until smooth. In the bottom of prebaked crust or tart shell, spread a thin layer of jam, about 5 tablespoons. Top with pastry cream. Add fresh berries and fruit. In the microwave, warm remaining apricot jam with 1 tablespoon water; stir to combine and brush fruit with jam mixture to seal in freshness and add a beautiful shine to tart. Serve.