In a 1-1/2- or 2-quart heavy saucepan stir together sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Gradually stir in half-and-half. Add vanilla bean, if using. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more.
Gradually stir about half the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove and discard vanilla bean or stir in liquid vanilla, if using. Strain through a sieve. Cover surface with plastic wrap. Cool slightly or refrigerate until serving time. (Do not stir after mixture sets or it may separate and thin.)
One hour before serving, in a small bowl stir together strawberries, sugar, and pepper.
To serve, spoon about 3 tablespoons pastry cream into each puff; spoon in strawberry mixture. Makes about 2 cups pastry cream and 1-1/2 cups strawberries. (10 servings).
Cream Puff Shells
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper; set aside. In a medium saucepan combine water, butter, sugar, and salt. Bring to boiling. Add all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour or all-purpose flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat. Cool for 10 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well with a spoon after each addition.
Drop dough using a 2-tablespoon-capacity ice cream or cookie scoop or by heaping tablespoonsful 3 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a deep golden color and puffs are firm. Transfer puffs to a wire rack; cool completely.
Cut puffs in half; if necessary, remove soft dough from inside. Spoon in filling. Replace tops. Sift powdered sugar over tops. Makes 10 cream puffs.