This Vanilla Crème Pâtissière - aka Pastry Cream in English - is one of the most basic and traditional French Pastry recipe. Made with 5 simple ingredients and ready in 15 minutes, it is a deliciously rich and creamy custard that can be used to fill pastries, eclairs, choux, cakes, desserts and baked goods!
What is Crème Pâtissière
Crème Pâtissière is a thick cream that has the consistency of a pudding or a custard. Made out of Milk, Egg Yolks, Sugar and a Flour, it is a classic French Recipe that is often used to fill cakes and baked goods.
The Milk is thickened with the Egg Yolks and the Flour (or Starch) in a pot on the stove. Pastry Cream is often flavoured with Vanilla, but can be made with many different flavouring ingredients such as Coffee Powder, Lemon or Chocolate.
The most famous way of using Pastry Cream is in Choux Pastries such as Eclairs, Choux au Craquelin or Choux à la Crème (Cream Puffs). Just like an Almond Cream Filling and a Whipped Ganache, this custard can also be used to fill Tart Crust like for these my Strawberry Tartlets.
You will only need 5 very basic ingredients to make a Crème Pâtissière - that's what makes it so easy to prepare! scroll down to recipe card for all quantities
- Milk: Full Cream Milk is always the best option for flavour and texture; I do not recommend using a light/skimmed milk here.
- Egg Yolks: used for both flavouring and to thicken the cream
- Sugar: Caster or fine white sugar
- Cornstarch: what will make the cream thicken.
- Vanilla: Bean, Paste or Extract
- Optional: unsalted Butter
The cream does not especially require the use of butter, but it can be added to the preparation for a creamier (and richer) finish. It is up to you, depending on how you will use it, to decide to add butter or not.
- Milk: you can use a Dairy-Free Milk (I often make it with Soy Milk) to make this recipe dairy-free
- Cornstarch: can be replaced with Plain / AP Four, but I personally always use Cornstarch as I find it gives a lighter consistency to the cream than flour. Can also be replaced with another starch like Tapioca Starch.
How to make Vanilla Pastry Cream
The making of Pastry Cream is very similar to the making of a Lemon Curd for example.
You need to heat up your liquid (Milk here), then pour it over pre-stirred Egg Yolks, Sugar and Flour or Starch. Finally, the whole preparation needs to be cooking on the stove until thick.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the Sugar and Egg Yolks until smooth. - photo 1 & 2
- Add the Cornstarch and whisk until no lumps remain. - photo 3 & 4
- In the meantime, Heat up the Milk in a small pot on low to medium heat. If flavouring the cream with Vanilla, infuse the Vanilla Bean sliced in half in the warm Milk for about 5 minutes, then scrap the seeds out and place them back into the milk. You can also use Vanilla Paste or Extract instead if you cannot find fresh Vanilla Beans. - photo 5
- Once it starts to simmer, carefully pour the hot Milk (it does not need to be boiling - a simmer is fine) over the Yolk/Sugar/Starch, while continuously whisking. This is to temper the ingredients and make sure the hot milk does not cook the egg yolks straight away. - photo 6
- Transfer it all back into the pot and continue cooking on very low heat while continuously whisking. It is important to work with a low heat - even if it takes longer to cook - to avoid burning the eggs and getting lumpy / grainy pastry cream! - photo 7 & 8
- Once the cream starts to boil, cook for an additional 30 seconds to 1 minute (see tips on how long to cook the cream for below). - photo 9 & 10
- Transfer directly into a shallow baking pan and cover with plastic wrap, touching the surface. Place in the fridge to cool down completely.
Optional: once the cream is ready, you can pour it through a thin mesh sieve to remove any potential lumps and thin it out - that is optional.
If using Butter, whisk it in away from the stove before transferring to the shallow baking pan. Whisk well until all incorporated and smooth. Note that you shouldn't add the butter when the cream is still on the stove or it will melt straight away and the cream will turn greasy.
Tips to make the perfect Crème Pâtissière
Making French Creme Patissiere is really not too complicated as long as you follow a few rules and are aware of temperatures and timing!
- When placing the Eggs and Sugar in the bowl, start whisking them together straight away. If you leave them together unmixed for too long, the sugar will start to cure/cook the egg yolks.
- To avoid lumps while baking, make sure the Cornstarch (or Flour) is well whisked with the Yolks and Sugar before being incorporated into the Milk. It is always better to sift Cornstarch as it tends to create lumps in the packet.
- The best way to avoid lumps in the cream is to temper all the ingredients. Make sure the eggs are at room temperature before starting, for example.
- Make sure to continuously whisk well while the cream is cooking. Don't forget to go all the way to the bottom of the pan and around the edges - these are the two areas that will start to thicken faster.
- Always work with low heat. If the heat is too high, chances are your eggs will curdle before the cream has time to thicken and you will end up with a lumpy cream. It will take a bit longer to make, but chances of success are much higher!
The main issues with Creme Patissiere are usually about its consistency / texture. But whether you want a thicker or looser cream really depends on how you are planning on using it, so there is no right or wrong here!
- The cream is too thick: add a little bit more milk to the pot (away from the heat preferably) and whisk really well to loosen the cream. Place it back on the stove to finish cooking the cream.
- The cream is too liquid: in a separate bowl, mix a little bit of cornstarch (start with 1 tablespoon, it is usually enough) with a splash of milk then add it to the cream away from the heat. Whisk really well to combine, then place back on the stove and keep whisking until the cream thickens. Repeat if needed.
Note that the cream will always thicken in the fridge when it cools down, so don't worry about a slightly runny cream. Try cooling it down first, and if it still too liquid once fully cool, try adding more starch and cooking it again
- There are lumps in the cream: that usually happens if the ingredients were not tempered properly or cooked on a temperature too high and the eggs curdle. Try vigorously whisking the cream first to break down any lumps, then use an immersion blender on the lowest speed for a few seconds if needed.
Make sure not to over-blend the cream with the immersion blender though or it will turn into a soup.
Although they are basically made the same way on the stove and with similar ingredients, there are two main differences between the two creams:
- Crème Pâtissière uses Milk (or a combination of Milk and Cream) while Crème Anglaise is made with Cream only.
- Crème Anglaise has a thiner consistency as it is thickened with the Egg Yolks only - it does not require any Flour or Starch like Crème Pâtissière
A great tip that I picked up from Pastry School is that there is actually a rule to determine how long the Pastry Cream should cook.
For 1 litre of Milk, the cream needs to cook 1 minute. That means that if you are making a smaller batch of 250ml (1 cup) for example, you need to cook the cream for 15 seconds.
The cooking time starts when all the ingredients are incorporated into the pot and you see the first bubble of a boil. Cooking the Pastry Cream the right time not only allows to get the perfect custard consistency, it also makes sure that the Egg Yolks are properly cooked to avoid any risks.
Once the Cream is cooked, you will want it to cool down as quickly as possible. To do so, I highly recommend pouring it in a large, shallow pan (like a brownie pan for example) so that the layer of cream is very thin.
This will allow for the cream to cool down much more quickly - and more evenly - than if it was stored in a bowl for example.
It is also very important to fully cover the cream with some plastic wrap touching the surface. Otherwise, a thin crust will form on the surface of the cream where it gets in contact with air.
Once fully cooled down, the cream will appear much thicker that warm. Make sure to whisk it well to loosen the cream before using it to fill your desserts and pastries!
Pastry Cream needs to be kept in the fridge and will keep up to 3 days when refrigerated. Make sure the cream is well covered with plastic wrap, touching the surface of the cream. A thick crust will form on the top of the cream if not properly covered.
It is not recommended to freeze Pastry Cream as it will loose its consistency and become wet and soggy when being thawed.
How to use this Cream Filling
The ways to use Crème Pâtissière is almost infinite! You can use it a a filling between two layers of cake or pastries (think Mille-Feuille), in a tart covered with fresh fruits or baked in a tart shell (Baked Custard Tart).
Or inside Choux Pastries, baked inside a Cake, as a layer in a Triffle or a Parfait,...
This basic cream is also the base used to make more complex French Pastry Creams like Crème Diplomate - the one I used to make this Fraisier Cake - (pastry cream + whipped cream +gelatine), Crème Légère (pastry cream + whipped cream) or Crème Chiboust (pastry cream + Italian meringue).
Here are a few recipes that use Pastry Cream:
- Coffee Choux Buns
- Plum and Vanilla Custard Tart
- Rhubarb and Custard Tart
- Strawberry Tartlets with Pastry Cream Filling
- Boston Cream Pie from Sugar and Soul
- Vanilla Custard Cookie Cups by Liv for Cake
- Lemon Ricotta Cake with Pastry Cream from Ginger with Spice
More Classic French Desserts Recipes:
- Cherry Clafoutis
- Sablés Bretons (Salted Butter Cookies)
- French Buckwheat Crepes
- Easy French Apple Cake
- Chocolate Pie Crust
- Easy Raspberry Coulis
- Chocolate Bavarois Cake
- Spiced Red Wine Poached Pears
- French Triple Chocolate Tart
- Easy French Apple Tart
- Easy Strawberry Coulis
- Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
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Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)
- 500 ml (2 cups Full Cream Milk
- 1 Vanilla Bean - or 1/2 teasp. Vanilla Paste
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 30 gr (2 tbsp) Caster Sugar - or fine white sugar
- 30 gr (1/4 cup) Cornstarch - or Plain Flour
- 30 gr (2 tbsp) Unsalted Butter - optional
- Place the Milk and Vanilla Bean/Paste in a small pot and heat up on very low heat. Leave to infuse for about 5 minutes without boiling the milk (note 1)
- In a seperate heat-proof bowl, whisk the Egg Yolks and Sugar until foamy. Add the Cornstarch (preferably sifted) and whisk until incorporated and smooth.
- Carefully pour the warm milk over the Yolk/Sugar while continuously whisking (note 2). When all smooth, transfer the whole preparation back in the pot on low heat.
- Keep whisking on low heat until the cream starts to thicken (note 3). When you see the first bubble (the cream starts to boil), keep whisking for 30 seconds then directly remove from the heat (note 4)
- If adding the Butter, slice it into small cubes and add it to the warm, cooked cream away from the heat. Whisk well until fully incorporated and smooth.
- Transfer the Pastry Cream into a large shallow pan or container (note 5) and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream (note 6).
- Place in the fridge and leave to cool down set for at least an hour - or until cold.
- Keep in the frigde for up to 3 days, until ready to be used. Before using, whisk the cream to loosen it.
- If using Vanilla Bean, remove the bean from the pot, scrap the seeds with a small knife and put them back in the pot with the milk. Discard the pod or dry it out for another use.
- This is to temper all the ingredients and make sure the eggs don't burn or curd once placed on the stove
- Always work with low heat to avoid burning the cream and/or overcooking the eggs. It will take longer to thicken, but it is the best way to get the perfect creamy texture without any lumps.
- The cooking time depends on the quantity of Milk. As a general rule, count 1 minute of cooking after the first boil for 1 litre of Milk. We are using half a litre of milk here, so we cook it for 30 seconds.
- Storing the cream in a shallow pan or container will help the cream cool down much faster and more evenly as well.
- It is important to cover the cream with wrap touching the surface to avoid the creation of a thin crust over the cream.