This Chocolate Pastry Cream Recipe is a delicious chocolate cream that can be used for cream puffs, eclairs, as a cake filling or for a chocolate pie filling. Made with Dark Chocolate, the classic French Chocolate Cream is a truly decadent filling or topping you will even want to eat with a spoon!
Why we love this recipe
I seriously could use this recipe for Chocolate Pastry Cream with every single dessert I make. Because nothing is better than a decadent, creamy and delicious chocolate custard cream to accompany your favourite cake and dessert!
Typically used to fill French Pastries like Choux Pastry, Entremets Cakes or fruit Tarts, this cream can also be used to fill a layer cake, a pie - or any of your favourite cakes and desserts, really!
This cream is a simple twist on a classic Vanilla Pastry Cream. The same yummy rich taste with the addition of Dark Chocolate. Heavenly! I love to use this chocolate cream to fill Choux à la Crème or Choux au Craquelin, or even used as a filling inside a Chocolate Shortcrust Pastry topped with fresh berries!
What is Pastry Cream
Pastry Cream - or Crème Pâtissière in French - is one of the Basic French Pastry Cream use to fill pastries, cakes and baked goods. It is used as a base for many other French Creams like Diplomate or Mousseline Cream, but is often used on its own as well.
Made from Milk (and/or cream), Egg Yolks, Sugar and Flour (or Cornstarch), this cream can be flavoured with many ingredients like Vanilla, Coffee, a Fruit Purée or like here, Chocolate.
It is a cream that is typically cooked on the stove. The Egg Yolks and Flour/Starch are used to thicken the Milk and create a thick cream that can be piped in/over desserts or used as a filling.
To make Chocolate Crème Pâtissière, you will only need 6 ingredients (scroll down to recipe card for all quantities)
- Milk: always go for Full Cream when you can for the best flavour and texture. I don't recommend using a light milk for baking.
- Vanilla: traditionally a fresh Vanilla Bean, but since those are so expensive, I like to use Vanilla Paste.
- Egg Yolks: will give the cream its richness of flavour and help it thicken as well.
- Sugar: Caster Sugar or Fine White Sugar.
- Cornstarch: what is used to thicken the cream, along with the Egg Yolks
- Dark Chocolate: only use proper Cooking Chocolate when baking - I used a 70% Dark Chocolate here.
- Milk: I often make this recipe with a Dairy-Free Milk like Soy Milk and it does work fine. But you will get the best taste and texture with a full cream milk.
- Vanilla: the best option is to use a fresh Vanilla Bean, but it is a very costly ingredient. So I use Vanilla Paste instead. You can use Vanilla Extract or Essence if preferred, but I highly recommend Vanilla Paste for a more 'natural' taste.
- Cornstarch: you can actually make this cream without cornstarch and use Plain Flour instead - or another kind of starch like Tapioca. I personally prefer to use starch instead of flour as it creates a lighter cream, but flour will work just as fine.
- Dark Chocolate: use your preferred chocolate to make the cream, but the type of chocolate you use will affect the overall sweetness of the cream. I personally love to use a very dark 70% Cacao Chocolate for a very intense chocolate taste, but you can absolutely use a less dark chocolate or even milk chocolate instead - it entirely up to you.
Unfortunately you cannot use an Egg Replacer like Chia or Flaxseed here as the egg yolk is fundamental for both the texture and the taste of the cream.
How to make Chocolate Pastry Cream
Making Chocolate Pastry Cream follows the same process as making a basic Vanilla Pastry Cream, with one extra step at the end: adding the chocolate.
There are three main steps to follow to make this chocolate custard filling:
- Mixing the Yolks, Sugar and Cornstarch
- Adding it to the hot Milk and Vanilla Paste and cooking it on the stove
- Whisking in the Chocolate until melted and combined.
Let's look at each step in details.
1- Mixing the Yolks, Sugar and Cornstarch
- Separate the Egg Yolks and Whites. Keep the Egg Whites for another recipe like my Raspberry Mousse. - photo 1
- Place the Yolks in a heat-proof mixing bowl and whisk with the Caster Sugar for about a minute. - photo 2
- Add the Cornstarch and whisk it in until fully combined and smooth. Set aside. - photo 3 & 4
2 - Adding it to the hot Milk and Vanilla Paste and cooking it on the stove
- Place the Milk in a small Pot and whisk in the Vanilla Paste. Heat it up on low heat until the Milk starts to boil. - photo 5
- Once it starts to simmer, pour about half of the Milk over the Egg/Sugar/Cornstarch mixture while continuously whisking.Mix well until all incorporated and loose. This is to temper all the ingredients and avoid cooking the egg yolks too quickly. - photo 6
- Pour it all back into the pot with the rest of the Milk and place back over low heat. It is important to work with a low heat to avoid cooking the eggs too quickly, which would result in a lumpy cream. - photo 7
- Keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken and wait for the first boil. Once the cream starts to boil, count 30 seconds (while still whisking), then remove from the heat. - photo 8 to 10
3 - Whisking in the Chocolate until melted and combined
- Away from the heat, add the Cooking Chocolate. Either use Chocolate Chips/Callets or thinly chopped chocolate if using a chocolate bar. This is to insure the chocolate melts quickly. - photo 11
- Whisk the Chocolate in until fully melted and smooth (see troubleshooting answers below if you have consistency issues). - photo 12
- Transfer the Chocolate Cream into a heat-proof bowl or preferably a shallow baking pan like a brownie pan (*). - photo 13
- Cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream. This is to make sure the cream does not dry out and form a skin. - photo 14
- Directly place in the fridge (or freezer for a quicker cooling) to cool and set. The time it takes for the cream to cool will depend on how thick the layer is in the bowl/pan. Keep in the fridge until ready to use.
(*) placing the cream in a shallow pan is the best option because a thin layer of cream spread in a large flat pan will cool down much more quickly than in a bowl. The quicker it cools down, the more you reduce the risk of bacteria development in the cream.
Pastry Cream Troubleshooting
The main issues you might encounter when making this recipe are related to consistency and texture.
The most important question is: "How thick should pastry cream be?". The answer completely depends on how you will be using the recipe. This recipe will make a thick cream that is smooth enough to be piped in Choux Pastry.
If using this cream as a cake filling for example, you might want a stiffer cream. This can be achieved by adding a little bit more Cornstarch and cooking the cream for a little bit longer.
The cream is too thick
If after cooling down, the cream seems to be very hard and/or thick and you struggle to pipe it, try to whisk a little bit more milk in.
You may need to vigorously whisk the pastry cream first to loosen it. If the milk does not seem to incorporate well, place it all back in a pot on the stove to slightly melt the cream.
The cream is too liquid
This generally happens when not enough Cornstarch (or Flour) - or too little egg yolks - was used. First, let the cream cool down completely in the fridge; it will always thicken more when set.
If the cream is still too liquid after resting in the fridge, mix a little bit of Cornstarch with Milk in a small bowl (1 tbsp at the time) and whisk it in the chocolate pastry cream. Place the cream back on the stove to cook and keep whisking until it thickens. Cool again as advised.
The cream is lumpy
One of the most common problem with this cream is that is the temperature of the stove was too high or the cream was not whisked enough (or not evenly enough), it will create lumps.
This is because at a higher temperature, the eggs will start to coagulate more quickly or that the cream was not evenly whisked ( the bottom and side of the pan will always be hotter and the cream will cook much more faster there).
First, try to break the lumps by vigorously whisking the cream away from the heat. If that does not solve the problem, use an immersion blender on low speed to break down the lumps. Don't over-blend the cream do or it will turn into a soup.
The time you need to cook the cream after the first boil depends on the quantity of liquid you have at the start. As a general rule, you need to cook the cream for 1 minute per 1 litre of Milk (4 cups / 34 oz). This is too make sure that the egg yolks are fully cooked and safe to eat.
For this recipe, we are using 0,5 litre of Milk so we are cooking it for 30 seconds. If adapting the quantities of this recipe, make sure to also adapt the cooking time. Don't worry if the cream seems to be rather liquid after cooking it - it will thicken and set in the fridge when cool.
Pastry Cream and Pudding (or Custard) are very similar and often use the same ingredients. The main difference is the way they are used. A pudding is usually served on its own as a dessert while pastry cream is used to fill pastries and cakes.
They are both basic French Pastry Creams used in cakes and desserts, but are not made from the same ingredients or techniques.
A Bavarian Cream is made from a Crème Anglaise base (Milk, Egg Yolks and Sugar) to which Gelatine and Whipped Cream are added to thicken and stabilise the cream. A Pasty cream only relies on the cooked egg yolks and the flour/cornstarch to thicken.
Storing Pastry Cream
Do you have to refrigerate the cream?
Yes - Pastry Cream (or any cream that contains eggs) should always be kept in the fridge. The pastries or cakes made with pastry cream should also be refrigerated once the cream has been added.
How long can I keep chocolate pastry cream?
This cream can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days. It should be store in a clean bowl or container and covered with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream to avoid drying out.
Can I freeze Crème Pâtissière?
It is not recommended to freeze it, as it will very likely split and become very watery when thawed.
How to use this Chocolate Filling
It can be used as a chocolate cream frosting or chocolate cream filling. My favourite ways to use it are:
- in Choux Buns or Choux au Craquelin
- in Eclairs
- to fill fruit Tarts like my Strawberry Tartlets (chocolate + strawberries? yes please!)
- to make Chocolate Mille-Feuilles
- for a Triffle or a Layer Cake
- to fill some French Crêpes
- as a filling, topped with fruits inside a classic Pâte Sucrée (Sweet Shortcrust Pastry)
More Creams and Sweet Sauces:
- Vanilla Pastry Cream
- Strawberry Coulis
- Mixed Berry Compote
- Homemade Applesauce
- Easy Raspberry Coulis
- Almond Cream Filling (Frangipane)
- Easy Mango Coulis
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Chocolate Pastry Cream
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 30 gr (2 tbsp) Caster Sugar
- 30 gr (1/4 cup) Cornstarch
- 500 ml (2 cups) Full Cream Milk - or Dairy-Free Milk if required
- 1/2 tsp Vanilla Paste - or extract
- 120 gr (4,5 oz) Dark Cooking Chocolate
- Separate the Egg Yolks and Whites. Keep the Egg whites for another recipe.
- Place the Egg Yolks in a mixing Bowl with the Caster Sugar and whisk for about a minute.
- Add the Cornstarch and whisk it until all incorporated. Set aside.
- Pour the Milk in a small Pot and whisk in the Vanilla Paste. Place on the stove on low heat until the Milk starts to boil (1)
- Pour about half of the hot milk over the Eggs/Sugar/Cornstarch while continuously whisking. Stir until all combined, then pour it back into the pot with the rest of the milk.
- Place back on the stove over low heat and keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken (2). Keep whisking until the cream starts to boil and you see the first bubbles. Continue to whisk for 30 seconds after the first boil (3) then remove from the heat.
- Away from the heat, add the Cooking Chocolate that has been thinly chopped (4). Gently stir with a spatula until the chocolate has fully melted
- Pour the cream into a clean bowl or shallow baking pan like a brownie pan (5). Cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream and directly place in the fridge to cool down and set - about 1 to 2 hours at least.
- When completely cool and set, use to fill your favourite pastries, tarts or cakes.
- I highly recommend using the measurements in grams/ml over cups for the best results.
- Only use proper Cooking Chocolate (and not eating chocolate or chocolate chips) or the cream might be grainy.
- Make sure to keep an eye on the milk as it will expand very quickly when it starts to boil. Remove from the heat as soon as you see the first boil.
- It will take a few minutes for the cream to thicken on low heat, but this is to make sure you do not end up with lumps. If cooked on a higher heat, the eggs might start to coagulate too quickly which will create a lumpy cream with cooked egg bits in it.
- The time required to cook the cream after the first boil is dependant on the quantity of milk used. As a general rule, the cream needs to be cooked for 1 minute per litre of milk. We are cooking the cream for 30 seconds as we are only using half a litre of milk here, but adapt the cooking time if you adjust the quantities or a making a double batch of cream.
- It is important to add the chocolate into small pieces so that it melts more easily with the residual heat from the cream. If using a cooking chocolate bar, thinly chop it first or use cooking chocolate callets.
- Using a shallow baking pan to cool down the cream will make it cool down and set much more quickly than in a bowl where the layer of cream is thicker. Cooling the cream more quickly will also reduce the risk of bacteria development in the cream.