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I made a simple pastry cream from a recipe that I've used once before uneventfully, and this time it turned out with a grainy texture.

The procedure was basically to: whisk together 3 egg yolks and an egg together with sugar and cornstarch in one bowl, separately bring milk with butter to a boil, temper the egg mixture with the hot milk, and then add the warm egg mixture to the milk and boiling for three minutes.

What might I have done wrong that would cause a grainy temperature? Did I not get the eggs warm enough before adding to the boiling milk? Did I boil for too long or too short a time? Are there any other potential culprits I'm not considering.

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"boiled for 3 minutes" - that's your culprit. Time is completely irrelevant for custards. You should judge doneness by thermometer. If you don't (want to) have one, you will have to learn to judge it by looks. A timer is bad for meat, but completely useless for custard. –  rumtscho Aug 16 '12 at 9:11
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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think it all got too hot, but there might be other problems.

  1. Did you mix the cornstarch in completely? Leaving undissolved cornstarch is a sure way to obtain 'blobs'.
  2. Did you pour the hot milk onto the egg-mixture? You should do that very slowly and whisk vigorously (while trying to splash everything). If the eggs get too hot, they will coagulate.
  3. Did you use a double boiler? Putting the pan on an open flame will make the bottom too hot and the eggs will coagulate.
  4. Even if you did use a double boiler, did you whisk regularly while heating? The eggs at the bottom will become far warmer than the eggs in the center...

As rumtscho mentioned, a thermometer will be useful for monitoring the done-ness of the custard.

Generally, a fully cooked custard should not exceed 80 °C; it begins setting at 70 °C.

Source: Wikipedia

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