This basic pastry cream recipe is the base for filling many pastries, pies, cakes, and tarts. Pastry cream can be flavored in a variety of ways, is an incredibly versatile dessert component, and is also the base for making sweet souffles! Pin it for Later »
Pastry Cream Recipe Overview
Skill Level: Beginner
Pastry cream is one of the most basic components involved in baking and pastry making. Pastry cream, also known as creme patisserie or creme pat for short, has arguably the most applications of any single pastry component.
Pastry cream can be piped into eclairs, cream puffs, and napoleons, used as a cream filling for cake, and can also be the base of a cream pie, such as coconut cream pie. Walk into any professional pastry kitchen and a big batch of pastry cream is sure to be found.
What is Pastry Cream?
Pastry cream is a classic French stirred custard. This means that the custard is stirred while it cooks on the stove, much like the process of making lemon curd, which results in a smooth and creamy mixture that works well as a filling or sauce.
As with any custard, pastry cream contains milk, eggs, and sugar; however, pastry cream also has the addition of cornstarch, to help thicken it to a pipeable consistency, as well as butter to increase the richness. The most common flavoring for pastry cream is real vanilla bean, however it can be flavored in an endless variety of ways.
How to Make Pastry Cream
Technically, the ingredients for pastry cream can all be put into a pot at once and heated until thick. However, a few additional steps will ensure a much smoother and silky pastry cream.
Step 1: “Blanch” the Egg Yolks
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture is foamy and about double in volume. This works best with an electric mixer but can also be achieved with a whisk.
This process is called blanching the egg yolks and helps ensures lumps do not form with the pastry cream. The sugar essentially protects the egg proteins from coagulating too quickly when they cook.
Step 2: Add the Cornstarch
Whisk the cornstarch into the egg yolk/sugar mixture. The cornstarch will help thicken and stabilize the custard once it is cooked.
Step 3: Heat the Milk
In a saucepan, bring the milk up to a boil. If using a vanilla bean pod or cocoa powder, these ingredients would also be added at this point. Other extracts and flavorings would be added later, if using.
Step 4: Temper the Egg Yolks
Slowly pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking. It can help to nestle your bowl in a wet tea towel to stabilize the bowl so that you can whisk with one hand. This will temper the egg yolks and prevent them from becoming scrambled eggs.
Step 5: Cook the Custard
Pour the egg/milk mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk and heat over medium/low heat while whisking continuously. The mixture will reach a boil and thicken.
Step 6: Strain
Pour the cooked custard through a fine mesh sieve while it is still hot. This will catch any lumps that may have formed.
Step 7: Add Butter & Other Flavorings
If using, add finely chopped chocolate at this point while the custard is still hot. Add the cold butter, and any other flavorings or extracts, if using.
Step 8: Chill
Press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate the cream until completely cooled before using.
Pastry Cream Ingredient Functions
- Sugar sweetens the pastry cream and also forms a barrier for the proteins in the egg yolks to slow down coagulation.
- Egg Yolks thicken the pastry cream and add richness.
- Cornstarch further thickens the pastry cream creating a more sturdy custard.
- Milk is the base for what is being flavored and thickened.
- Butter adds richness and creates a silky texture.
Pastry Cream, Creme Patisserie
- 1/2 cup (3.5 oz, 98 gr) granulated sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch (1 oz, 28 gr) cornstarch
- 1/8 tsp Morton kosher salt or table salt (use 1/2 tsp if using Diamond kosher)
- 2 1/2 cups (20 fl oz, 590 ml) whole milk
- 1/2 a vanilla bean pod, split and scraped or 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla paste (optional)
- 2 TBSP (1 oz, 28 gr) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Blanch the Egg Yolks: In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar either with a whisk or an electric mixer until foamy and about double in size. This is called "blanching" the egg yolks and will ensure a smooth pastry cream.
- Add the Cornstarch & Salt: Whisk the cornstarch and salt into the egg/sugar mixture.
- Heat the Milk: In a saucepan, heat the milk (and the vanilla bean pod and seeds if using) to a boil. Remove the vanilla bean pod if it was used.
- Temper the Egg Yolks: Slowly pour about half of the milk into the egg/cornstarch mixture while whisking continuously. It can be helpful to nestle the mixing bowl in a damp kitchen towel to stabilize the bowl so you can whisk with one hand.
- Cook the Custard: Pour the milk/egg mixture back into the pot with the remainder of the milk and cook over medium/low heat, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil.
- Strain: Pour the hot custard through a fine mesh sieve.
- Flavor: If you are adding any chocolate or other flavorings, they can be whisked in at this point. Add the cold butter and whisk in.
- Chill: Place a piece of plastic wrap right on top of the custard and refrigerate until completely chilled before using, about 2 hours.
- Store: Pastry cream can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Chocolate Pastry Cream: Add 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder in with the milk when you bring it to a boil. After the mixture has been strained, stir in 6 oz of finely chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate.
- Coconut Pastry Cream (can be used for pie filling): Replace 1/2 of the milk with full fat coconut milk. 1 cup of toasted coconut flakes can also be added.