Pastry Cream is a rich, thickened custard used in many desserts, from cream puffs to cream pies. This recipe is simple and made from six common ingredients. This creamy custard is gluten-free.
Pastry cream is an essential recipe to learn if you love baking. It is one of the items you make continuously in pastry school - so much so that the recipe and process become second nature. Pastry cream's use is vast, but most commonly, you'll find it used as a filling.
This rich, creamy custard is thickened with starch and eggs. The cooking process is quick and straightforward. Pastry cream can be flavored in many ways. This classic vanilla recipe pairs beautifully with my Chantilly Cream.
What is Pastry Cream?
Pastry cream, otherwise known as crème pâtissière, is a custard with starch added (cornstarch or flour). Pastry cream can be infused with other ingredients, commonly flavored with vanilla, including chocolate, lemon, and coffee. This thickened custard is versatile in its use. You will often find it in pie shells, between puff pastry layers (Napoleans or Mille-Feuille), and inside cream puffs.
- Whole Milk - Whole milk is necessary for proper pastry cream. Its higher fat content contributes to a rich mouthfeel and creamy texture. Milk with a lesser fat content will yield poor results in this recipe.
- Egg Yolks - Egg yolks contribute to the overall texture, richness, and flavor. The combination of egg yolks and cornstarch gives pastry cream its thickened consistency.
- Granulated Sugar - Sugar is necessary for sweetening the cream, helping slow the egg's cooking process and keep them from scrambling.
- Cornstarch - As stated above, cornstarch assists in thickening.
- Pure Vanilla Extract - Vanilla is the prominent flavor of this classic cream filling. Pure vanilla extract is added at the end of cooking so the flavor is noticeable and not cooked off. If using a vanilla bean, the bean is steeped with the hot milk at the beginning of cooking. You can also use vanilla bean paste.
- Butter - Adding butter at the end of cooking provides a luscious creamy texture.
See the recipe card for ingredient quantities.
STEP 1 (Boil the Milk) In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring whole milk to a boil, stirring frequently. Once boiling, immediately remove from the heat.
*If using fresh vanilla beans, split the beans and scrape the seeds. Add the bean and seeds to the milk, and then bring it to a boil. After boiling, infuse for 10 minutes before removing the vanilla bean pod.
STEP 2 (Whisk Egg Yolks, Sugar, and Cornstarch) - While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy (pale yellow). Add the cornstarch and whisk together until no lumps remain.
STEP 3 (Temper the Egg Mixture) - In a slow, steady stream, add approximately a ¼ cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue this process until all milk has been slowly added.
STEP 4 (Thicken) - Pour the mixture, through a strainer, back into the small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, constantly whisking until thickening and slightly boiling.
STEP 5 (Finish and Chill) - Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and pure vanilla extract. Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring it to a shallow bowl or container. Cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill for at least two hours before using.
PRO TIP - A shallow bowl or container will help the cream cool down quicker.
- Too Thin - You have not cooked the pastry cream properly.
- Too Thick - You added too much cornstarch.
- Lumpy - The custard was cooked at too high a temperature - make sure to whisk constantly as the custard cooks. Pass the cream through a sieve to remove the lumps.
- Grainy - You have either incorrectly tempered the egg yolk mixture or cooked the custard at too high a temperature. Unfortunately, the egg has curdled, and you will have to make the cream again.
Pastry Cream Uses
- Cake Filling - This cream is perfect between two cake layers. Pair with fresh sliced strawberries or use in the classic Boston cream pie.
- Pie or Tart Filling - Your favorite cream pie is made with pastry cream, from chocolate to banana. Pastry cream is also a prominent filling for fruit tarts. For a simple vanilla cream pie, make a batch of this recipe and scoop the cooled cream into a baked pie shell. Top with Chantilly Cream or Whipped Cream.
- Dessert Cups - A simple yet satisfying dessert. Pipe pastry cream into little cups or jars with graham cracker crumbs and fresh fruit.
- Napoleons - Pipe this cream between baked puff pastry layers and decoratively arrange it with fresh fruit or berries.
- Cream Puffs and Eclairs - Make a batch of Choux Paste and pipe this cream into cooled puffs. Garnish with chocolate ganache or glaze.
- Cuisinart Chef's Classic 1-Quart Nonstick-Hard-Anodized Saucepan
- OXO Good Grips 11-Inch Balloon Whisk
- Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls
- Cuisinart Set of Fine Mesh Strainers
Cover the surface of the cream with a piece of plastic wrap. Press the plastic wrap against the surface, preventing the cream's surface from forming a skin. Store in a small bowl or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Can you freeze pastry cream? I advise against freezing pastry cream. It will lose its texture because the starch and protein bonds will break, resulting in weeping and runny custard (too much moisture).
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- Be careful when tempering the egg mixture with hot milk to avoid curdled eggs. If this is your first time tempering eggs, have someone pour the milk in a thin steady stream while you whisk.
- Keep the mixture constantly moving to prevent burning.
- Use real vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla.
Frequently Asked Questions
Fold a small amount of freshly whipped cream into your completely cooled, prepared pastry cream. It lightens the pastry cream without diminishing the rich flavor.
You've cooked the cream at too high a temperature, or you have not stirred enough as the cream came to a boil. Immediately after cooking, run the cream through a sieve.
You have mixed something improperly within the process or have not cooked the final mixture long enough for it to thicken.
Only some pastry cream recipes are gluten-free. Some recipes use flour for starch. This recipe uses cornstarch, so it is gluten-free.
Pastry Cream (Crème Patissière)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2½ tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiling, remove from the heat. *If using fresh vanilla bean, split the bean and scrape out the seeds. Add the bean and seeds to the milk and then bring it to a boil. After boiling, infuse for 10 minutes before straining.
- While the milk is heating, whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light and fluffy (pale yellow in color). Add the cornstarch and whisk together until no lumps remain.
- In a slow steady stream, add approximately a ¼ cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue this process until all milk has been slowly added.
- Pour the mixture, through a strainer, back into the small saucepan. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slightly boiling.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla. Let the mixture cool slightly before transferring to a bowl or container. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill for at least two hours before using.