Crème Pâtissière – aka Pastry Cream in English – is one of the most well-known basic French Pastry recipe. Made with simple ingredients, it is the most deliciously creamy custard-like filling to use in cakes, desserts and baked goods!
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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.
What is the difference between
Crème Pâtissière and Crème Anglaise
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
Pastry Cream Ingredients
You will only need a few very basic ingredients to make a Crème Pâtissière – that’s what makes it so easy to prepare.
To make a basic Vanilla Pastry Cream, you will need (scroll down to recipe card for all quantities):
- Full Cream Milk
- Egg Yolks
- Caster Sugar – or fine white sugar
- Flour or Starch – I personally always use Corsntarch
- 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.
How do you make simple 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.
Let’s look into each steps in detail:
- 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.
- In a seperate heat-proof bowl, whisk the Egg Yolks and Caster Sugar. The more air you incorporate into it while whisking, the lighter the cream will be.
- Add the Cornstarch to the Yolks/Sugar and whisk until there are no more lumps.
- 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.
- Transfer back into the pot and heat up on a low heat. Keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken, then directly remove from the heat.
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, add it to the warm cream away from the stove. Whisk well until all incorporated and smooth.
How long do I need to cook 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.
How to cool it down properly.
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!
How long does Pastry Cream last?
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 Crème Pâtissière
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 (Eclairs, Choux Buns), baked inside a Cake, as a layer in a Triffle or a Parfait,… like I said – so many possibilities!
Here are a few recipes that use Pastry Cream:
- Coffee Choux Buns
- Plum and Vanilla Custard Tart
- Raspberry & White Chocolate Profiteroles from Only Crumbs Remain
- Boston Cream Pie from Sugar and Soul
- Vanilla Custard Cookie Cups by Liv for Cake
- Homemade Mille-Feuille from Pastry and Beyond
- Lemon Ricotta Cake with Pastry Cream from Ginger with Spice
- Strawberry Tartlets with Pastry Cream Filling
Tips and Troubleshooting
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.
- 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.
- If your Pastry Cream seems to be too thick (hard to whisk, sets in a block), try adding a little bit of Milk and whisking vigorously.
- If the Cream is too runny, mix a little bit of Flour or Starch with Milk and add it to the cream in the pot. Heat up again until it starts to thicken (adding more if required). It is important to dilute the Starch with a liquid before adding it to the hot cream or it will create lumps!
- Got lumps in your Crème Pâtissière? First, try to whisk it vigorously to break the lumps and pour it through a thin mesh sieve to catch any larger lumps. If it does not seem to work, use an Immersion Blender on low speed for a few seconds to break out the lumps.
- Always work with low heat. If the heat is too high, chances are your eggs will curd 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!
More Classic French Desserts Recipes:
- Cherry Clafoutis
- Sablés Bretons (Salted Butter Cookies)
- French Buckwheat Crepes
- Easy French Apple Cake
- Easy Raspberry Coulis
- Chocolate Bavarois Cake
- Spiced Red Wine Poached Pears
- French Triple Chocolate Tart
- Easy French Apple Tart
- Easy Strawberry Coulis
Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)
- 2 cups (500ml) Full Cream Milk
- 1 Vanilla Bean, or 1/2 teasp. Vanilla Paste
- 4 Egg Yolks
- 2 tbsp (30gr) Caster Sugar, or fine white sugar
- 1/4 cup (30gr) Cornstarch, or Plain Flour
- 2 tbsp (30gr) 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 (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 (2). When all smooth, transfer the whole preparation back in the pot on low heat.
- Keep whisking until the cream starts to thicken. When you see the first bubble (the cream starts to boil), keep whisking for 30 seconds then directly remove from the heat (3)
- 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 (4) and cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the cream (5).
- 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
- 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.