As I completed my last Daring Baker’s Challenge I found I had an abundance of Pastry Cream on hand. What to do? (In truth I think left-over pastry cream is an oxymoron because, well- can a treasure like pastry cream really be considered a left over?)
Pastry cream can be used to fill fruit tarts and cream puffs, made into a trifle with sponge cake and fruit or just plain greedily eaten with a spoon. I’m sure there are millions of uses for it. My favorite use for it, though, is as a filling for a Torta Della Nonna or “Grandmother’s cake.” Surround it with an eggy, sweet, short pastry and bake it and it becomes half-cake-half-tart-magic. This is a so called simple rustic dessert that is temptingly delicious and rich-but not overwhelmingly so.
Here’s what to do:
Make a pastry cream if you don’t happen to have a store of it from making Bostinis.
This recipe is a somewhat lighter version than the one from the Bostini recipe…
- one vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out with the dull side of a paring knife.
- 2 cups whole milk
- Add the vanilla pod and seeds to the milk in a large saucepan and bring just to a boil
- whisk together 1/2C sugar, 3 Tablespoons cornstarch and 2 Tablespoons All purpose flour in a medium bowl. Add seven large egg yolks and mix.
- Temper the egg yolk mixture with about 3/4Cup of the hot milk (whisk constantly while doing this so you don’t scramble your eggs!)
- Add the tempered mixture to the hot milk, whisking constantly and then cook over moderate heat still whisking until you reach a simmer and mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (4 or 5 minutes)
- Add 2 Tablespoons of unsalted, softened butter and whisk in.
- Strain through a metal sieve into a metal bowl in an ice bath. Stir frequently until mixture is chilled. Place in fridge with a sheet of plastic wrap pressed down on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- Note: I use a “gravy style whisk” to stir custards, sauces and gravies to prevent lumpiness. Here’s a picture of what I mean by this style of whisk as opposed to a french balloon whisk- its slightly angled flat style does a better job of getting everything on the bottom of the pan and into the corners:
Then make the pastry:
- Put 1-1/2 Cup of All-Purpose flour in a medium bowl
- whisk in 3/4 Cup of powdered or confectioner’s sugar
- add a large pinch of salt
- add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- whisk all together
- Cut 1/4 lb (4oz) of unsalted butter that is cold and cut into small pieces into flour mixture until it is the texture of fine crumbs
- Add 4 large egg yolks and mix with a fork or your fingertips until a kneadable mass forms, turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a smooth, soft dough forms that doesn’t stick to your hands when handled.
- remove 1/4 cup of the dough and knead 2 Tablespoons of chilled pastry cream and 2-1/2 Tablespoons of flour into it until smooth.
- Form the larger dough and the one you just added to into separate disks and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Roll the larger piece of dough out to about a 1/4 inch thick 12 inch diameter circle
and use it to line a 10 inch flan ring that you have placed on a baking sheet lined with parchment. I use a pizza tin since my fridge is unaccommodating to a baking tray and the pizza tin is just slightly larger than the flan ring. Be careful though, as this is less stable for moving it about.
The dough is pretty soft and doesn’t really bend without breaking like an ordinary pie crust so you will probably end up doing some patch work to cover the bottom and sides of the flan ring- don’t worry about it, it will all come together as it bakes. Just don’t leave any bald areas as the pastry cream will breach them.
Once the flan ring is lined, roll the smaller piece of dough out on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Roll it to a very thin 10 inch circle to fit the top of the flan ring.
Fill the pastry lined flan ring with pastry cream.
(I had some lemon curd in the fridge and decided to experiment on half of my Torta. ) *I liked the addition, it was okay for a variation- but the original has a particular buttery charm of its own that really doesn’t need anything added.
The pastry cream will not reach the top, brush the inside of the pastry with an egg wash of one yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons of water and place the thin top on top of the cream by inverting the plastic wrap and placing dough side down. Peel the plastic wrap away carefully and seal the edges, enfolding the sides down over the top. Chill the Torta in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F brush egg wash over top and sprinkle with a palm full of pine-nuts.
Place in the lower half of the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until golden and slightly puffed. Put baking tray on a cooling rack and cool for about ten minuted then slide off baking sheet onto rack and remove flan ring. Cool for about 25 minutes more. Serve warm or room temperature, but store any left over in fridge. Bring back to room temperature before serving again. Enjoy!