Skip to main content

Pastry Cream ~ Crème Pâtissière

Pastry cream is a thickened custard that is rich, yet light, and is used to fill many different types of pastries.  This is the typical filling you find in Napoleons, cream puffs, fruit tarts and many cakes (think Boston Cream Pie).  The technique for making crème pâtissière  is not difficult at all and it's the kind of cream filling you're going to want to master if you haven't already.  The time spent at the stove is mere minutes, but I caution you to pay close attention to certain visual clues.  I think once you see how easy it is to make pastry cream, you may find yourself filling and sandwiching many desserts with it, because it's so tasty.     

The Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups, enough to fill a 9" round tart.

Split your vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a small, sharp paring knife.  With the top, blunt side of the blade, scrape the vanilla seeds from the inside of each half.  The seeds will clump and cling to the blade.  If your vanilla bean is fresh, it will be plump, moist & fragrant.

In a saucier or saucepan, place the milk, pinch of salt, vanilla bean & all its seeds along with your sugar.  Whisk this mixture together over medium-high flame.  Bring it up to just under boiling (this is scalding).  You want the sugar to dissolve completely, so it's important to whisk constantly and all around the saucepan.  Turn off the heat once the milk mixture is scalded. 

In a heatproof bowl, whisk your egg yolks.  Sift the cornstarch over the eggs and whisk this thoroughly, making sure there aren't any lumps.

Working quickly, ladle about one cup of the scalded milk into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture, whisking the entire time.  Ladles come in all sizes, but the most basic holds 1/4 cup of liquid (figure 4 ladles).  Do this one ladle at a time.  Pour the egg yolk/milk mixture back into your saucier & return it to your burner.

NOTE: you must whisk the eggs quickly and thoroughly as you're adding each ladle of milk or you risk curdling. 

Remove the vanilla bean and set it aside.  Once the vanilla bean dries, you can use it to make vanilla sugar.  Over medium-high heat, bring this mixture up to a boil and whisk as your doing so.  You want to make sure you reach all around the saucepan.  In order for the cornstarch to activate properly and reach its thickening power, you must bring the mixture up to a boil.  This should take about 2 minutes or so.  Let the custard cook for a minute more once it's thickened.  Don't forget to whisk the entire time you're doing this.

Once the pastry cream has thickened properly you can turn the heat off.  This should be rich, thick and smooth.  No lumps!

Add the tablespoon of butter now.  This will give your crème pâtissière a bit of richness and flavor.  Whisk until it's completely melted.

Working quickly, strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.  Don't forget to scrape the bottom of your strainer!

Do you see why we strain?  Not only does it remove any stray bits of vanilla bean, but it also removes any lumps that may have formed while thickening the cream.

A word on cooling this mixture.  Since pastry cream has eggs in it, the mixture needs to cool down completely before you proceed with it.  One thing that makes me cringe whenever I read a recipe for pastry cream is that the author will more than likely instruct you to immediately place this bowl (with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming) in the refrigerator.  For me it's a big NO NO.  This hot mixture will cause the inside temperature of your refrigerator to go up significantly.  That's the last thing you need when you're storing butter, eggs, milk or any other perishables in the fridge. 

I much prefer to have a large bowl of ice water at the ready, and simply place my bowl with the pastry cream into it (pictured above).  I give the pastry cream a good stir every few minutes until it has cooled down completely.  This should take about 20 minutes.  I then proceed with my recipe or if I need to store it for the next day, I place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate it. 

Note: Pastry cream can be stored for one day in the refrigerator, but anything made with it should be consumed within 3 days.

How do I use pastry cream?  I love making Boston Cream Pies with it whenever I get the chance.  I've even made old-fashioned Washington Pies (chocolate cake layers with a pastry cream & cherry filling) with this delicious custard.  Perhaps my favorite way of using it is to fill all sorts of fruit tarts throughout the year.  Any type of berry piled on top of pastry cream is delectable beyond belief.  Now that you know how quickly pastry cream comes together and how simple the technique is, you really should try making some the next time you want to have a seasonal berry tart or a very chic Napolean.  Crème pâtissière  is definitely one of my favorite Good Things.  Bon Appetit!


  1. Can you use this to fill eclairs?

  2. It's exactly the same filling for eclairs. Delicious!

  3. I struggled when I made pastry cream the other month for a project - but with your very handy instructions I will struggle no more!

    It's nice to have you back.

  4. Lovely Pru! I find blogging a bit relaxing for me & it's something that makes me happy too. Yes, fret no more for pastry cream!


  5. How about chocolate pastry cream ?

    1. Ginny, you know, you have a point. I should make chocolate pastry cream!


Post a Comment

Thank You for Posting!

Popular posts from this blog

Antique Salt Cellars

There was a time when salt cellars played an important role on the dining table for the host or hostess.  As a result of it being such an expensive commodity several hundred years ago, salt was seen as a luxury and it was the well to do that made salt cellars quite fashionable & a status symbol for the home.  A single salt cellar usually sat at the head of the table and was passed around throughout the meal.  The closer one sat to the salt cellar, the more important one was deemed by the head of the household.  Smaller cellars that were more accessible and with an open top became a part of Victorian table settings.  Fast forward to the 20th century when salt was no longer a luxury and when anti caking agents were added to make salt free-flowing, and one begins to see salt cellars fall out of fashion.  Luckily for the collector and for those of us who like to set a table with Good Things , this can prove to be a boon. Salt cellars for the table come in silver, porcelain, cut glass

Collecting Jadeite

With its origins dating back to the 1930s, jadeite glassware began its mass production through the McKee Glass Co. in Pennsylvania. Their introduction of the Skokie green & Jade kitchenware lines ushered in our fascination with this jade color.  Glassmakers catered jadeite to the American public as an inexpensive alternative to earthenware soon after the Depression, both for the home and for its use in restaurants.  The Jeanette Glass Company and Anchor Hocking introduced their own patterns and styles, which for many collectors, produced some of the most sought after pieces.  Companies marketed this beautiful glass under the monikers of jadite , jadeite , jade glass , jad-ite , jade-ite , so however you want to spell it, let it draw you in for a closer look.  If you want a thorough history of the origins of jadeite, collectors’ pricing, patterns & shapes (don’t forget the reproductions in 2000), I highly suggest picking up the book by Joe Keller & David Ross called, Jadei

A Tour of Turkey Hill with Martha Stewart and Friends

Martha Stewart led an intimate tour of her former Westport, Connecticut home and gardens for a few of my friends this past weekend.  From the photographs I've seen of that special day, it was an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime by those who were in attendance.  As much as I regret not going to this momentous occasion, my friends were kind enough to allow me to share their amazing photographs here on the blog. Let's take a tour of Turkey Hill with Martha Stewart and a few of my friends. Without the kindness of Jeffrey Reed, Dennis Landon, Darrin David, Anthony Picozzi and Colin Eastland, this post would not be possible.  It must also be stated that the fundraising event was graciously hosted by the current owners of Turkey Hill, the Bergs. Many thanks to the Berg family for opening up the property. Turkey Hill is the Federal style home that was purchased, renovated and landscaped by Martha Stewart and her then husband, Andy, back in 1970.  It was he