I am going to share with you today my go to vanilla pastry cream recipe (Creme Patissiere), a creamy custard that is super silky and loaded with vanilla bean. My easy pastry cream recipe is rich but not overly sweet, the perfect filling for your cakes, eclairs, cream puffs, fruit tarts etc.!
In my tutorial I will take you through how to cook silky, creamy, lump free pastry cream! It is in fact a super easy recipe however, if made incorrectly, it can become either too stiff or too runny or even unpleasant in taste. Once you master how to make vanilla bean pastry cream, I can guarantee that you will make it over and over again, it is totally addictive and can be used to fill your favourite tarts, cakes or almost any desserts really. It is also super versatile, you can also easily turn it into a chocolate pastry cream, coffee pastry cream, etc.
What is pastry cream?
Crème pâtissière, also known as pastry cream or ‘crème pât’, is a rich, creamy custard that is thickened with egg yolk and starch and / or flour. It is super silky, creamy, melt in your mouth, extremely delicious! Pastry cream is the key ingredient of many French desserts such as fruit tarts, mille feuille or choux pastry eg. cream puffs, eclairs or profiterols. It can be also used to fill donuts, or just pipe on anything! Pastry cream is traditionally flavoured with vanilla bean, but it works perfectly with many other flavours like chocolate, coffee, hazelnut praline etc.
Crème pâtissière is also the base of other custard like creams
- Crème Diplomat: Crème Diplomat is a lighter version of the French Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière). Basically it is Crème Pâtissière with added gelatine and whipped cream. Whipped cream makes it lighter and fluffier and the gelatin makes it stable
- Crème Mousseline: Crème Mousseline is classic Pastry Cream enriched with fluffy butter that makes the pastry cream extra rich and also more stable to pipe. Imagine kind of like a butter cream but way more delicious
My Top 3 Baking Tips for home bakers
- Read the recipe carefully including my tips and recommendations on how to avoid and fix typical issues during making this Crème pâtissière
- Avoid using substitutes and changing the recipe unless you are aware of how to fully reformulate the recipe in order to keep the balance in texture as well as flavour. Reducing sugar, replacing egg, using ingredients not on the right temperature etc. will all have an impact on the end result
- For consistent, happy baking experience always measure your ingredients with the help of a Digital scale. Cup measurement is provided as an indicative figure only and might be used for less complex and large batch recipes however it is not an appropriate method for more delicate, complex pastries. A little it too little flour or too much something else can easily cause issues in this pastry cream eg. too thick, too runny etc.
Important notes regarding the INGREDIENTS of this Vanilla bean Pastry Cream recipe
- Milk: Use high fat content milk, the highest you can get! It makes all the difference in the world when it comes to deepness of the taste
- Sugar: Simple, white granulated sugar is perfectly fine. If you want to learn about the different types of sugar and how to use them in baking, please read my article in here. I prefer my pastry cream not overly sweet as you will see
- Egg: Some recipes call for whole egg however I strongly advise to use egg yolk only for the best texture and flavour. Perhaps try my pavlova recipe if you want to use up your egg whites or my macaron recipe also requires egg white. Other, maybe not so obvious note is that the colour of your egg yolk will dictate the colour of your pastry cream. I prefer bright yellow colour hence trying to purchase the best quality, free range-eggs when I am making pastry cream. Few times I made this recipe using eggs from my parent's farm, OMG the colour was just out of this world! Needless to say use fresh egg eggs
- Flour: Flour is one of the thickening agent in this pastry cream recipe, use AP flour. No, it won't taste like flour! If you want to be a Pro when it comes to deciding what type of flour to use in your baking, please read my article in here
- Starch: Corn starch is the other thickening agent in the recipe, theoretically you could only use flour only OR starch only however I prefer 50%-50%.
- Vanilla bean: Vanilla is THE heart of making pastry cream! Avoid using artificial vanilla. There are several great brands for fine, pure vanilla, I use Nielsen massey which I love and really recommend. I use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract for my pastry cream for the deepest, most delicious vanilla cream
- Butter: Use always unsalted as you want to be in control of the quantity of the salt. I am using 82% fat content butter in all my recipes. Room temperature is key here. If too cold, it won’t incorporate properly. If too hot/liquid, it will make the pastry cream runny and very difficult to emulsify with the rest of the ingredients
5 Tips regarding the TECHNIQUE of making Crème Pâtissière
It’s a super simple recipe and comes together in a few minutes. You don’t have to overthink, however there are some important notes worth considering to make sure that your pastry cream will turn out exactly as you wish for, smooth, silky and creamy having the texture and consistency.
1. How mix the ingredients correctly while making Pastry cream
As a first step of making Crème Pâtissière you will need to mix all the ingredients together (except milk) into a smooth paste. Smooth is key here to avoid lumps and bits of starch and/or flour later in your pastry cream.
In a large enough bowl with the help of a Hand whisk, mix together sugar and egg yolk first for a minute or two until mixture slightly increases in volume. No need to fully whip it, after 1-2 minutes when the mixture already foamy, sift (sifting is important to avoid lumps) in corn starch and flour and mix throughout until you achieve a smooth paste. If the paste is not smooth enough you might end up with flour bits in the pastry cream and we want to avoid that. Make sure, that you mix these ingredients while milk is already heating up as the paste can get dry out quickly.
2. How to temper egg yolk
You might wonder why not heat all ingredients together and cook until it thickens? Because we don´t want to end up with milky scrambled eggs. How to avoid it? After you are ready with your smooth egg yolk paste, you will need to temper it with simmering milk in order to reduce the chances of scrambled eggs.
Tempering the egg yolk mixture is super easy but like with everything in baking, you have to be precise. It's very important that you heat up the milk just until simmering. You have to wait until it start simmering so that the milk reaches a high enough temperature to temper the egg yolk. Equally, it's also important to remove the milk from the stove as soon as it is simmering to avoid too hot temperature which would cook the egg yolks and again, you would end up with scrambled egg. Needless to stay, don't walk away while you milk is over heat and I suggest you heat the milk over medium heat.
So once the smooth egg yolk & flour paste is ready and milk is simmering, slowly but constantly pour warm milk over the egg yolk mixture (that is why you need a big enough bowl). While tempering egg yolk, make sure you whisk the mixture vigorously. You will be using both of your hands at the same time so it might require some practice. Or, if making it the first time, it is a good idea to place bowl with the egg yolk mixture in over a kitchen towel to prevent slipping.
3. How to cook Crème Pâtissière
After tempering the egg yolk, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens.
While cooking the Crème pâtissière, you absolutely have to whisk the mixture all the time. It is normal to get some lumps in the cream once as it is reaching a higher temp, but don't worry, just keep whisking and the cream will get smooth and glossy. Wait until the first boil and cook the mixture whisking vigorously for about 1 min after the first boil. It's worth to keep a good quality small/medium sized saucepan for making pastry cream, so that the milk won't burn in it.
Once you are happy with the consistency of the pastry cream (it has thickened and you cooked for min 1 minute), remove from stove. It is not a must, but feel free to strain your Crème Pâtissière over a sieve in case in doubt regarding lumps .
Wait for a few minutes, let it cool slightly then mix in soft room temp butter in 3 steps mixing throughout after each step. Soft butter is very is key here. Too cold butter won´t incorporate properly into the pastry cream and you might end up with butter chunks. In the meantime, avoid last minute butter microwaving as melted butter also difficult to incorporate into the pastry cream.
4. How to store pastry cream
Place the Crème Pâtissière into a large and shallow container and cover the entire surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on top. Store in fridge for a few days. Do not freezer pastry cream, it would run its consistency.
Please note that pastry cream tends to firm up in the fridge and you might even experience some lumps in it the next day. Don't panic, just give it a few whisk to achieve a smooth, silky, pipeable consistency. In the meantime, make sure it is only a few whisk, do not over beat it in a standmixer as pastry cream can become runny if you over beat it.
5. Pastry cream Troubleshooting
Pastry cream is too runny
There is nothing more disappointing than ending up with a pastry cream that is super delicious but its consistency is too runny to fill your desserts. You can save runny pastry cream by either incorporating quite a lot of creamed butter into it, or leave it as it is and use it for desserts that can be spooned like a dessert in a glass.
The most common mistakes for runny pastry cream:
- Ingredients measured inappropriate eg. not enough flour or starch in the recipe. Make sure you measure all your ingredients with a Digital scale
- Mixture is cooked only briefly. Make sure you cook the Crème Pâtissière for at least a minute after the first boil
- Starch and/flour is not incorporated properly with egg yolk. While making the paste with the egg yolk make sure you mix it until you achieve a smooth, thick paste
- Butter mixed in either while it is too firm or too liquid (melted). Make sure butter is room temp soft when mixing in that ensure proper emulsification
- Maybe the consistency is thick but not thick enough. Please note that the consistency of this pastry cream is thick enough to pipe, fille tartlets but not super thick for example to make a custard slice cake
Pastry cream is too firm
This is not a common mistake but can happen when ingredients measured inappropriate eg. too much flour or starch in the recipe. Make sure you measure all your ingredients with a Digital scale. You can to loosen up too stiff pastry cream by folding in some lightly whipped cream
Pastry cream has flour / starch bits
- Starch and/flour is not incorporated properly with egg yolk. While making the paste with the egg yolk make sure you mix it until you achieve a smooth, thick paste. Also sifting these ingredients really helps to incorporate them with the egg yolk
Pastry cream has lumps
- This happens when you don´t whisk enough while cooking the mixture. It can be fixed by whisking the mixture after it is cooked or worst case scenario run it through a sieve
Pastry cream has unpleasant flour / starch taste
- Mixture is cooked only briefly. Make sure, you cook the Crème Pâtissière for at least a minute after the first boil. Next time cook it for longer time
Pastry cream burnt
- I actually had this issue all the time until I purchased a high quality "milk pan" that I only use to cook pastry cream and other creams
How to make pastry cream gluten-free
Making gluten-free Crème Pâtissière is super simple! Leave out the flour and replace it 1:1 with corn starch. Easy peasy!
How to flavour Crème Pâtissière
Pastry cream is a brilliant core filling that can be made in many different flavours by using chocolate, coffee, nut paste eg. hazelnut paste, or even milk infusion eg. lavender or cinnamon stick.
Chocolate pastry cream
It is super easy to turn this vanilla bean pastry cream into chocolate version. Cook pastry cream as explained above, in the meantime melt 100g chocolate. Pour warm pastry cream over melted chocolate and fold together. Since chocolate is solid on room temp, I suggest to reduce the amount of thickening ingredients to half (so use only half of the corn starch+flour). You might also want to consider adjusting the quantity of the sugar slightly. Whether you are using dark chocolate or milk chocolate, you might want to add more or less sugar into the initial pastry cream recipe.
Coffee pastry cream
Coffee pastry cream is another popular version, actually my favourite! I like to flavour the classic pastry cream with 30g freshly brewed coffee. This quantity of coffee is is not too much liquid to the recipe yet gives a super delicious coffee character to the cream. Since coffee will be an extra wet ingredient to the recipe, I recommend using gelatin to keep the texture the cream thick enough. Process: Soak 1 gelatin sheet (1,7g gelatin) into cold water, then brew 30 g coffee. Squeeze excess water from gelatin, stir into warm coffee then fold the whole mixture into the pastry cream at step 5 before adding butter.
Recipes to use pastry cream
Strawberry Cream tart - This Strawberry Cream tart with Vanilla Custard is the creamiest, most amazing tartlet to make when strawberries in season. The Strawberry Cream tart consist of a Pâte Sablée shortcrust pastry filled with silky vanilla custard (pastry cream), topped with a super easy whipped cream and strawberries. Utterly delicious! Recipe in here
Crème brûlée macaron - This macaron recipe delivers on all the key Crème brûlée attributes without compromise: lovely bite sized macaron shells are sandwiched together with creamy custard filling while a crunchy caramelized sugar is added on top as decoration. Recipe in here
Fraisier cake - This spectacular Fraisier cake recipe is the best way to celebrate Spring! Buttery sponge layers filled with incredible delicious vanilla mousseline cream (pastry cream enriched with butter), a layer strawberry compote insert inside and the signature strawberry decoration around the cake. Recipe in here
Crème Brûlée Choux au craquelin (cream puff) - This cream puff is filled with silky vanilla pastry cream and topped with a crunchy caramelised sugar layer just like traditional Crème Brûlée! Certainly one of the most delicious choux pastry I have ever made! Recipe in here
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RECIPE CARD - Pastry cream (Crème Pâtissière)
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
- In a large enough bowl with the help of a Hand whisk, mix together sugar and egg yolk until slightly fluffy for about 1-2 minutes
- Mix in corn starch, flour, and vanilla with until thoroughly incorporated and have a smooth paste
- Bring milk to boil in a saucepan on medium heat then remove it as soon as it starts simmering. Make sure it is simmering but not crazy boiling, see m tips above
- Pour the warm milk over the egg yolk mixture slowly while whisking vigorously with a Hand whisk. This stage is effectively tempering the egg yolks and the mixture should already start to slightly thicken
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens. Concretely it is approximately 1 min after the first boil. It might get lumpy first, don't worry just keep whisking and the cream will get smooth and glossy. It's worth to keep a good quality (so that the milk won't burn in it) small/medium sized saucepan for making pastry cream only
- If in doubt, strain the pastry cream for a lump free, creamy end result
- Add in room temperature soft butter and mix with a Rubber spatula until completely incorporated. It is worth to add the butter in 3 stages and mix well after each addition.
- Pastry cream needs to completely cool before using it for in dessert. Place the cream into a shallow bowl and cover the entire surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on top. Store in fridge
- Once cooled, you may need to whisk the pastry cream again to get a smooth texture. Make sure you do not over mix it as it can get runny. Give it a few whisk only until smooth. Use it to fill tarts, eclairs, cakes etc