A simple yet delicious recipe for Creme Patissiere (Vanilla Pastry Cream)– a rich, creamy custard used in many types of dessert! This recipe is gluten free, and also dairy free friendly. If you’re looking for chocolate pastry cream, you can find that recipe right here.
Learn how to make rich, creamy Vanilla Pastry Cream from scratch!
Pastry Cream (or Creme Patissiere) is a quintessential part of pastry making, so it’s an essential skill to learn if you love baking, pastries, and dessert. Creme patissiere is basically a delicious, rich, creamy custard thickened with starch and eggs. It’s an important component for many desserts.
What is pastry cream (creme patissiere) used for?
- It’s used to fill classic profiteroles and sometimes cream puffs
- To fill chocolate eclairs
- As filling for cakes, like Boston cream pie
- Filling for fruit tarts
- To make mille feuille
- To make vanilla pudding or chocolate pudding
If you’ve never made creme patissiere (vanilla pastry cream) before, you should definitely try it. It’s such an easy and delicious recipe with a lot of great uses.
There is some confusion about custard-based desserts and their terminology, so I’m going to clear that up before I get into the pastry cream recipe.
Creme Anglaise is a pouring custard. A runny version of pastry cream. It isn’t typically thickened with a starch (although some use a little cornstarch to avoid scrambling), and usually only uses eggs/egg yolks. It’s like a thick sauce that can be poured over desserts. This custard isn’t heated to a boil to avoid the eggs from curdling.
Creme Chantilly is lightly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and (usually) flavored with vanilla.
Creme Patissiere 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. Because of the starch, the eggs don’t curdle readily.
Creme Legere is pastry cream (creme patissiere) with sweetened and flavored whipped cream (chantilly) added. Most people call this creme diplomat as well.
Creme Diplomat is creme patissiere mixed with chantilly, gelatine and any extra flavorings (optional). It’s basically creme legere made with stabilized whipped cream.
Creme Bavarois is a dessert on its own. It’s like panna cotta, but made with creme patissiere. It’s creme patissiere mixed with chantilly, but with extra gelatine (so that it sets like a pudding) and extra flavorings.
Creme Patisserie is the base for all these pastry essentials, so I hope you give this recipe a go!
While the pastry cream is cooling, cover it with plastic wrap that is touching the entire surface. This ensures that the creme patissiere will not form a skin.
Is this recipe gluten free?
This pastry cream recipe is gluten free, because I use cornstarch instead of flour to thicken it. Some pastry cream recipes use flour, or both flour and cornstarch, but that’s not necessary. I also find that using cornstarch alone makes the pastry cream less likely to taste floury, which is a problem you encounter with pastry cream made with flour.
How to make dairy free pastry cream
If you’d like to make this recipe dairy free, substitute the milk with a plant-based milk like almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk or even soy milk.
What kind of vanilla is best to use for this recipe
Since vanilla is the key flavoring in this pastry cream recipe, PLEASE make sure you use good quality vanilla. It’s the one flavoring that I never skimp out on. Use a good vanilla extract and try to avoid vanilla essence (usually imitation flavor), and if you can use vanilla bean paste or vanilla beans, even better.
The importance of eggs
Eggs play two roles in creme patissiere (pastry cream). It adds richness (especially the yolks), and also thickens the custard as well. I use large eggs in this recipe, where an egg weighs 2 oz / 57 g on average. So if you’re using different sized eggs, you can adjust accordingly. But a little extra egg (or egg yolk) won’t mess up your pastry cream.
I use 3 large egg yolks, plus 1 large egg for this recipe. This pastry cream is delicious and spreadable and pipeable (isn’t too stiff). If you want a RICHER tasting pastry cream then I like to use 6 large egg yolks instead. This version is slightly thicker because of the extra egg yolks.
I personally don’t like my pastry cream to be too sweet. So I only add 6 tbsp (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp) of sugar for every 2 cups of milk. Feel free to adjust the sweetness to your taste.
Cooking tips to make sure you get perfect creme patissiere (pastry cream) each time.
The first step is to heat the milk.
Some recipes call to scald the milk, which isn’t necessary if you’re using pasteurized milk. However, if you’re using fresh vanilla beans, scalding the milk with the vanilla and letting it cool down a little will allow the vanilla to infuse into the milk. I heat the milk until almost to a boil, so that it speeds up the process of dissolving the sugar and thickening.
Make sure to mix the eggs, cornstarch and sugar together in a separate bowl until you have a nice smooth paste.
This ensures that you have NO LUMPS in the cornstarch, and the sugar and eggs will form a thick paste which will mix in better with the milk. But don’t do this ahead of time. Only mix it together a few minutes before adding the milk. Otherwise the eggs will cook in the sugar.
Be careful when tempering the eggs with the hot milk.
If you’re a beginner, you could get someone to help you whisk the egg mix, while you pour the hot milk in a thin stream to temper the eggs. Another way to temper the eggs is to keep the bowl with the egg-sugar mix on a tea towel (to prevent slipping), and pour the hot milk from a light and small measuring cup (light enough to control with one hand). This makes it easier to whisk the egg mix with one hand and pour hot milk with the other.
Keep whisking and mixing the pastry cream while cooking.
It’s important to keep the milk-egg mix moving while it’s being heated. The milk will curdle when it comes closer to the boiling point, and we do NOT want that! Use a whisk and a spatula to make sure the pastry cream stays smooth. If you feel that the creme patissiere is heating up too fast, remove it from the heat periodically while stirring.
Bring the vanilla pastry cream to a boil.
Unlike other custards, pastry cream needs to be brought to a boil. The cornstarch will cook well, and you won’t be left with a starchy flavor too. The heat allows the eggs to form strong protein bonds, and the starch in the cornstarch expands, forming starch bonds that really thicken and stabilize the pastry cream. While stirring, allow the pastry cream to come to a boil and then let it cook further for about 1 – 2 minute at low-medium heat.
Strain the pastry cream.
It’s not necessary to strain the creme patissiere unless it’s lumpy. BUT it’s still a good extra measure to make sure the creme patissiere is silky smooth.
Cooling down the pastry cream.
Once the pastry cream is cooked, it needs to cool down completely. To allow the pastry cream to cool down quickly, spread it in a large bowl or shallow pan, so that the custard layer is fairly shallow. Make sure to cover the ENTIRE SURFACE with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface too.
Common creme patissiere mistakes
My pastry cream is lumpy
This happens if you’ve heated the pastry cream at too high of a temperature or you didn’t stir it well when it was coming to a boil. Don’t worry though, whisk it REALLY well to get rid of the lumps (off the heat), or if that doesn’t work, 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. This recipe makes a pastry cream that is spreadable and pipeable, but it’s not stiff enough to hold its shape. If you did want a stiffer and thicker vanilla pastry cream, you can increase the amount of cornstarch.
My pastry cream is too thick.
Chances are you added too much cornstarch. If you really compacted the cornstarch into your measuring spoon, or used an incorrect measuring spoon, this can happen. You can fold in a little stabilized chantilly cream to loosen up the pastry cream to make it the right consistency – like a creme diplomat.
My pastry cream has discolored (looks grey)
If you used an aluminium pot to make the custard, chances are that some of that aluminium can get into the pastry cream. Use a stainless steel pot, a copper pot or a non-stick pot.
Storing pastry cream
Never keep the vanilla pastry cream outside. It’s made with milk and eggs that go bad when un-refrigerated. The pastry cream will go bad if stored at room temperature.
Pastry cream cannot be frozen for later. The reason is that the starch and protein bonds that thicken the creme patissiere will break down when frozen. And as the pastry cream thaws out, it will weep and create too much moisture, making it runny, ruining the consistency.
The best way to store pastry cream is in the fridge, in an air-tight container, with a piece of plastic wrap covering the entire surface of the pastry cream. Pastry cream will last about 3 – 4 days in the fridge. This means you can make vanilla pastry cream ahead of time for your recipes too.
Other pastry cream variations
You can now make chocolate creme patissiere (chocolate pastry cream) too!
Or a lighter, sweeter salted caramel diplomat cream instead.
EQUIPMENT & TOOLS I USED FOR THIS RECIPE
Pyrex glass containers with lids – to store the pastry cream (remember to cover the surface with plastic wrap as well.
Creme Patissiere (Vanilla Pastry Cream)
- 2 cups milk
- 6 tbsp sugar
- Pinch salt
- 2 ½ tbsp cornstarch (cornflour) (3 tbsp / 30 g for a stiffer pastry cream)
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste / extract / 1 vanilla bean pod
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 large egg (please see notes)
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter softened
- If using vanilla bean pods, split the bean and scrape the vanilla seeds/caviar out of the beans.
- Add the bean and caviar with the milk into a saucepan. Heat the milk over medium high heat and bring it to a simmer, almost to a boil.
- While the milk is being heated, place the sugar, egg and yolks, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Whisk until you have a thick, smooth mix. (If you are using vanilla bean paste or extract, add it to the egg mix too). Place the bowl with the egg mix on a towel or napkin (to prevent the bowl from slipping while whisking, in the next step), and set aside until the milk comes to a boil.
- As soon as the milk starts to bubble, remove it from the heat. Slowly pour about a half of the hot milk in a thin stream, into the egg mix, WHILE WHISKING CONSTANTLY to temper the egg mix. When the eggs have been tempered, add the egg mix back into the hot milk in the saucepan.
- Heat the custard base, over medium heat, while whisking vigorously until it starts to thicken - this should take about 1 - 2 minutes.
- While whisking, let the custard come to a boil (the custard will release bubbles). Lower the heat and cook for a further 1-2 minutes after you see the first bubbles break the surface. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Whisk in the butter, until it’s completely mixed in.
- Pour the custard into a bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic wrap is touching the whole surface. This is to prevent a custard skin from forming on top.
- Let the custard cool down to room temperature and then let it chill in the fridge for a few hours, until it’s completely chilled.
- Use as needed after the pastry cream has been chilled.
Tips & Tricks
- For a richer vanilla creme patissiere, you can substitute the whole egg with 3 egg yolks (6 egg yolks in total).
- For a dairy-free version, substitute the milk with a plant-based milk like almond milk, coconut milk, cashew milk or even soy milk.
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