Thursday, June 9, 2011

Summer Berries & Cloud Cream

I'm about to throw summer right in your face! 

Check this out. Vanilla-scented pastry cream served up with fresh-cut strawberries and blueberries, and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. 

This is probably the most elegant, simple and satisfying way to end any dinner, especially a summer patio dinner or even brunch. This bowl of Summer Berries & Cloud Cream is silky, cold, obviously creamy and light with a bit of richness. It is essentially ice cream without the ice and it can even be made a couple of days in advance!

If you've ever made custard before, or even an ice cream base, then you're laughing. This is essentially a custard thickened with a bit of flour and corn starch. I like the emulsifying properties of flour, due to the gluten proteins, as well as the silky thickening power of corn starch, which is why I use both in this recipe. The protein content of wheat flour also gives this cream a nice opaque, matte finish. See that? I just related pastry cream to wall paint. Genius.

The starch not only serves to thicken the cream, but it also functions to protect the egg proteins from curdling. As the cream heats up, the hydrated starch molecules leak out into solution and get in the way of the proteins so that they can't bind together or coagulate too quickly or too intensely. This protection allows you to slowly bring the cream to a boil without worry of totally scramblation (totally not a real word). As a matter of fact, you must bring it to a boil to deactivate the starch-degrading enzymes (amylases), that would otherwise break down the starch and transform your stiff cream into a loose, soupy one as it sits in the fridge. 

Don't be alarmed at how thick the pastry cream becomes as it cools. This is OK. You didn't screw up! It needs to be like this to withhold a dreamy, cloud-like texture when the whipped cream is folded in. Otherwise it would be too liquidy.

This dessert is best served to friends, or yourself at 12:04 am. Love.

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