Why It Works
- Dark chocolate creates a rich, thick, and intense pastry cream.
- Cinnamon deepens the chocolate flavor.
- Cornstarch thickens the pastry cream without imparting a floury flavor.
- Bringing pastry cream to a bubble deactivates the yolk's starch-dissolving amylase.
- Finishing with butter adds shine and flavor.
Chocolate pastry cream is all about the chocolate. The flavor should be earthy, rich, and intense, not mild and milky. The key to pulling that off is using high-quality dark chocolate, for a cocoa-forward flavor that isn’t too sweet. A dash of ground cinnamon deepens the natural chocolate flavor even further.
More experienced bakers may notice that this recipe doesn't involve a tempering step (in which the eggs are carefully combined with hot milk to prevent scrambling). That's because there's no need to preheat the milk in this recipe: you can simply combine the main pastry cream ingredients cold, then heat them up together until thickened. The chocolate melts in afterwards, when whisked into the hot pastry cream. You can read more about the ins and outs of pastry cream technique in our article and recipe for classic vanilla pastry cream.
- 4 ounces granulated sugar (1/2 cup; 115g), plain or toasted
- 1 ounce (3 tablespoons; 30g) cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (see note)
- Yolks from 4 large eggs, straight from the fridge (2 1/2 ounces; 70g)
- 2 cups (455g) whole milk
- 4 ounces dark chocolate, about 70%, chopped (3/4 cup; 115g)
- 1 ounce unsalted butter (2 tablespoons; 30g), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract
In a large bowl, set up an ice bath by partially filling it with a combination of cold water and ice. Set aside.
In a 2-quart stainless steel saucier, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk in egg yolks, followed by the milk, until well combined.
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until pastry cream begins to thicken, about 8 minutes. Once it thickens, continue to whisk, pausing every few seconds to check for bubbles, about 1 minute. When it begins to bubble, set a timer and continue whisking for 1 minute. This step is important to neutralize starch-dissolving protein found in egg yolks.
Off-heat, whisk in chocolate, butter, and vanilla extract until chocolate and butter have melted and all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Strain pastry cream through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium heatproof bowl. Immediately place plastic wrap or buttered parchment paper directly on the surface of the cream to prevent skin from forming. Transfer bowl to prepared ice bath to chill for 30 minutes, then refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
When you are ready to use the pastry cream, whisk until smooth.
If you have cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon, you can steep it with the milk. To do this, follow the steps for vanilla pastry cream but substitute 1 cinnamon stick for the vanilla bean; follow the vanilla pastry cream recipe's instructions for whisking the hot milk into the eggs, then proceed with Step 3 of this recipe.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Pastry cream can be refrigerated in an airtight container with plastic wrap or buttered parchment paper placed directly on the custard's surface for up to 3 days.