Ask me to describe pastry cream and I’ll tell you: “The most outrageously decadent pudding you will ever eat”
This crème pâtissière recipe is known as the mother of all creams. It’s found in many pastry shops around the world, particularly those of a French culinary basis.
Here’s how to make a vanilla pastry cream at home.
What Is Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière) Used For?
While you could certainly eat it by the spoonful, vanilla pastry cream is really intended as a filling for things like:
- It’s used to fill classic profiteroles or cream puffs
- To fill cupcakes
- As a filling for cakes
- Fruit tarts
Types Of Custards
Stirred (stovetop) Custards
- Crème Anglaise is a sweet custard-like sauce that can be poured over desserts, the name of which is French for “English cream”. It isn’t typically thickened with a starch but made by cooking together sugar, egg yolks, milk, and vanilla. The mixture is cooked just enough to keep a creamy, pourable, sauce-like texture. It’s traditionally served alongside a warm slice of apple pie, poured over a berry cobbler, or generously drizzled over fresh fruit.
- Crème Pâtissière is a thicker custard. It’s thickened using starch and eggs/egg yolks and can be piped. It’s mostly used to fill pastries and other desserts. Pastry cream is heated to a boil so that it thickens well.
- This includes custard pies, crème brûlée, flan, and cheesecakes. Usually baked in a water bath, aka bain-marie. The use of a water bath helps heat-sensitive egg custards bake low and slow in the oven, protecting the delicate egg proteins.
Vanilla Pastry Cream – Crème Pâtissière
- 125 g Granulated sugar
- 6 Egg yolks
- 25 g Flour
- 25 g Cornstarch
- 500 ml Whole Milk
- 1 Vanilla bean split lengthwise substitute: 1 1/2 – 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 30 g Unsalted butter
- Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise & use a knife to scrape the seeds out. Add the milk and vanilla to a medium saucepan, then place over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, flour and cornstarch until combined. Add the egg yolks and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain and the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Remove vanilla bean once the milk start boiling, Whisk some of the hot milk mixture with the egg yolks to temper them. This keeps the yolks from turning to scrambled eggs when you add them to the milk.
- Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk, until the mixture thickens; its temperature should reach 73°C (165°F). This is important: if the pastry cream doesn't reach 165°F on the stovetop it won't set properly as it cools, and may get soft and runny.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the butter (substitute: + vanilla extract if you're not using a vanilla bean)
- If you're going to flavor the pastry cream with chocolate or some other flavor, this is the time to do it (see variations below).
- Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
- Cool to room temperature. If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Whisk or stir before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
- Citrus – Add the juice and zest of 1 small lemon along with the butter.
- Chocolate – Add 25g (1/4 cup) of unsweetened cocoa powder to the sugar and cornstarch mixture.
- Coffee – Add 1 tablespoon of espresso powder or instant coffee granules to the milk.
- Berry/Fruity – Add about 45 g (1/3 cup) of seedless raspberry jam, blueberry jam, or strawberry jam along with the butter.
- Other Flavorings – Add along with the butter, 1/4 teaspoon of almond, coconut, or mint flavoring.
Tips To Make The Perfect Vanilla Pastry Cream Each Time.
The first step is to heat the milk.
If you’re using fresh vanilla beans, try to infuse the milk with the vanilla. Bring the milk to a gentle boil, then turn off the heat and leave the milk to soak up more vanilla flavor for about 15 minutes.
Mix the eggs, cornstarch and sugar together in a separate bowl until smooth.
This guarantees that you have NO LUMPS in the cornstarch. The sugar and eggs will form a thick paste which will mix in better with the milk. If you do this ahead of time, the eggs will cook in the sugar! Only mix it together a few minutes before adding the milk.
Be careful when tempering the eggs with the hot milk.
Ask someone to help you or keep the bowl with the egg-sugar mix on a tea towel (to prevent the bowl from slipping), whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until it is incorporated then slowly pour in the remaining hot milk while whisking.
(Optional: Strain the mixture back into the saucepan.)
Keep whisking and mixing the pastry cream while cooking.
It’s important to keep the milk-egg mix moving while it’s being heated, use a whisk or a spatula to make sure the pastry cream stays smooth. When it boils, whisk constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until it thickens. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the butter.
Cooling down the pastry cream.
Pour into a clean, large bowl or shallow pan, so that the custard layer is fairly shallow, and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool to room temperature. If not using right away, store in the fridge until needed, up to 3 days. Whisk or stir before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
If I’m using the custard to fill cream puffs or eclairs I ALWAYS whip up 200 g of heavy cream (around 1 cup) and fold it into the pastry cream to lighten it up and fill more pastries.
Troubleshooting crème pâtissière recipe
My pastry cream is lumpy
Heating the pastry cream at too high of a temperature can cause lumps, or you didn’t stir it well enough when it was coming to a boil. Don’t you worry, whisk it REALLY well off the heat or pass it through a sieve as soon as you’ve cooked it.
My pastry cream is too thin.
This happens if you haven’t cooked the pastry cream properly.
Why Is My Custard “rubbery” After Being Chilled?
The custard will set while cooling in the fridge. Don’t Panic! Give it a good whisk; it will come back to life, be silky smooth, and perfect for piping.
Custard needs to be stored in the fridge. Covered in plastic wrap in an air-tight container, for up to three days. It’s made with milk and eggs that go bad when un-refrigerated. The pastry cream will go bad if stored at room temperature.
Vanilla pastry cream can undergo undesirable texture changes when frozen and then defrosted, I do not recommend freezing your custard.
If you make this Crème Pâtissière Recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #WhatsUpDoughBakes.