This easy Pastry Cream (Creme Patissiere) recipe is simple and delicious. A rich and creamy vanilla custard you can use in a variety of decadent desserts.
Pastry cream is one of those recipes that you’ll want to have in your repertoire. It’s super easy to make and very versatile.
…and these Vanilla Custard Cookie Cups.
What is Pastry Cream?
Pastry cream, also known as creme patissiere, is a thickened vanilla custard made with eggs, milk, sugar, cornstarch (or flour), and vanilla.
It is used to fill desserts like cream puffs, eclairs, donuts, tarts, and cakes. It is also often used as a cake filling, specifically for the Boston Cream Pie.
You can eat it straight up, like a pudding, but one of my favorite ways to use it is in a Diplomat Cream. It’s a lightened-up version where equal parts of pastry cream and whipped cream are folded together.
How to Make Pastry Cream (Creme Patissiere)
I’m going to walk you through step-by-step on how to make creme patissiere yourself at home. It only takes a few simple ingredients, about 20 minutes, and some patience while it cools and sets.
I use egg yolks in my recipe (vs whole eggs) and today I used vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean paste which is what I usually use. You can also use a whole vanilla bean pod sliced in half which will get strained out at the end.
Let’s get to it!
Step #1 – Simmer the Milk & Vanilla
Place 1 1/2 cups milk and the vanilla (or vanilla bean paste) into a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring constantly until it just starts to simmer. Remove from heat.
Step #2 – Whisk Remaining Ingredients
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the remaining milk, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch. Make sure the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
Step #3 – Temper the Egg Mixture
While whisking the egg mixture vigorously, slowly pour in the hot milk – in a thin, steady stream. Whisk constantly and quickly until all of the milk is incorporated. Pour slowly, whisk quickly.
Liv for Cake Tip!
Tempering is a process where you slowly introduce a hot liquid into something cold. In this case, the eggs. Slowly adding the hot milk while whisking quickly will prevent the eggs from cooking. If you were to pour it all in at once you’d end up with a scrambled mess.
Step #4 – Return to Heat & Boil
Return the mixture to the pot and cook over high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a boil.
Step #5 – Strain & Cover
Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any cooked bits of egg and to ensure it is completely smooth. This is also where you’d strain out the vanilla pod if you used one.
Place plastic wrap directly on top of the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
Step #6 – Chill
Cool to room temperature and then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to set. The pastry cream will have thickened and look curdled with you try to stir it.
Rewhip by hand for a perfectly smooth and silky custard.
How to Store Pastry Cream
Pastry cream is perishable and needs to be refrigerated. It does not keep for a long time. You can store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Unfortunately, creme patissiere does not freeze well. The starch will break down during freezing/thawing and the custard will separate.
If you absolutely must freeze it, you can try restoring it to its former glory by using this method. I haven’t tried it myself, but I would give it a go!
One of my favorite versions of this custard is the coconut one I did for this Raffaello Cake by using canned (liquid) coconut milk instead of regular milk.
You’ll be eating that straight up with a spoon for SURE.
You can experiment with other milk alternatives as well, though I suspect they won’t have as much of a flavor impact as the coconut.
You can also infuse the milk with various flavors during step #1. Do this by adding tea bags or leaves to the milk, or herbs like lavender and thyme to the milk.
You can strain them out before tempering the hot milk into the eggs, or at the very end when you’re straining the custard.
I would recommend straining them out after step #1 though for ease as the custard will be thick and you’ll need to press it through the strainer.
You can also add liqueur to it — whisk it in right at the end (or before the final boil if you want to burn some of the alcohol off).
If you’ve never tried making your own pastry cream, I hope you give it a go. It’s a simple and delicious way to elevate your desserts to another level.
The flavor variations and uses are seemingly endless. Be sure to let me know in the comments if you try it!
Tips for making Pastry Cream
- Don’t boil your milk, just bring it barely to a simmer.
- Ensure the cornstarch is completely dissolved and incorporated into the egg mixture.
- Whisk quickly and pour slowly when tempering the egg mixture with the hot milk to prevent cooking the eggs.
- Be sure to bring the mixture back to a boil, while whisking the whole time.
- Strain the pastry cream to ensure it is completely smooth.
- Once chilled, it will be somewhat gelatinous – rewhip by hand until smooth and creamy.
- Refrigerate for up to one week. Do not freeze.
Pastry Cream (Creme Patissiere)
Pastry Cream (Creme Patissiere):
- Place 1 1/2 cups milk and the vanilla into a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring often until it just starts to simmer. Remove from heat.
- In a medium bowl, whisk remaining 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch.
- While whisking vigorously, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture.
- Return mixture to saucepan and cook over high heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and comes to a boil.
- Pass through a strainer and into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on top of custard to prevent a skin from forming.
- Cool to room temperature then place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to set. Whip before use.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Do not freeze.
This post was originally published Feb 7th, 2020 and has been updated with new content on Jan 27th, 2023.