A complete guide to a luxuriously smooth custard filling for wide variety of pastries, cakes and tarts.
What is pastry cream?
Pastry cream (or crème pâtissière in French) is a classic custard filling for eclairs, fruit tarts and pastries.
Silky smooth and rich, this custard is incredibly versatile and used in many different pastries and desserts.
Is pastry cream the same as custard?
Yes, pastry cream IS one form of a custard.
What’s the difference between custard and pudding?
While terms “custard” and “pudding” may be used interchangeably, the main difference is that custard is typically an egg-based filling, while pudding doesn’t contain eggs.
- Milk – You can use any kind of milk. Whole milk, 2%, or even non-dairy milk, like almond milk.
- All-purpose flour – It’s used as part of thickening agent. For gluten-free version, you may omit the flour and increase cornstarch by 1 tablespoon.
- Cornstarch – It’s a thickening agent. And I like to use it in combination with flour as an extra insurance.
- Vanilla – You can use vanilla bean, vanilla paste, or just pure vanilla extract.
Why do you use flour AND cornstarch together?
Cornstarch is activated when it’s cooked at 203°F (95°C) and may lose its thickening power when stirred too much.
So, in case cornstarch fails to thicken, flour is there as a backup.
How to make this recipe:
Making a classic pastry cream is quite easy. But it requires your undivided attention for about 10 minutes!
1. Heat the milk:
In a medium saucepan, bring milk and vanilla extract to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat off.
If using, vanilla bean, cut it lengthwise and scrape off the beans inside. And put the beans and the shell into the milk.
2. Prepare egg yolks:
In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until smooth, thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.
And then stir in flour and cornstarch.
3. Temper egg yolk mixture:
Take about ½ cup of hot milk and add it into the egg yolk mixture, while stirring vigorously. (Tempering helps to prevent scrambled eggs in your custard and makes it nice and smooth.)
When tempering the yolks, place a wet towel under the bowl, so that it doesn’t move around when you pour hot milk and whisk at the same time.
4. Cook custard:
Now add the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepane with remaining milk.
Cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens, 5-7 minutes.
It’s normal if the custard looks curdled in the beginning. This happens when the cornstarch starts to activate and thickens the mixture, and it’ll smooth out as you continue to whisk.
5. Chill custard:
Run the custard through a sieve, if desired, and transfer into a clean bowl and cover with a plastic wrap, so it touches the cream and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours.
To ensure extra smooth texture, place a sieve over the bowl and run the custard through it.
How to properly cover custard:
Make sure to place a plastic wrap in contact with the entire surface of the custard to prevent any skin forming.
Pastry cream is too thick?
Don’t be alarmed if your chilled pastry cream looks too thick. Simply whisk it until smooth again.
If you take it one step further and fold in whipped cream into the cooled custard, you’ll get creme diplomat – incredibly light and fluffy filling.
It’s my personal favorite!
I especially love filling my chocolate eclairs with it.
Pastry cream can be made ahead up to 3 days in advance.
Store pastry cream in the fridge with a plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard to prevent unpleasant skin forming.
Creme patisserie uses:
As mentioned earlier, vanilla pastry cream is quite versatile and used in many different desserts.
Here’re my top favorite ways to use classic creme patisserie:
- Filling classic eclairs
- Making homemade banana cream pie
- Filling fruit tarts
- Filling donuts
- Or simply eating it by spoonful with fresh fruits (the BEST!)
How to Make a Pastry Cream
- 2 cups (500g) milk Note 1
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Note 2
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup (70g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour Note 3
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream optional
- In a medium saucepan, bring milk and vanilla extract to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat off.
- Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with sugar until smooth, thick and pale yellow. Then stir in flour and cornstarch.
- To temper the egg yolk mixture, take about ½ cup of hot milk and add it into the egg yolk mixture, while stirring vigorously. (TIP: Place a damp towel under the bowl with egg yolk mixture to prevent it from sliding all over while you pour hot milk and whisking simultanuously.)
- Now, add the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with remaining milk. Cook it over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. (Note: It's normal if the mixture looks curdled in the beginning, be patient and it'll smooth out.) To see if the mixture is boiling, stop whisking for a moment. If it's burping bubbles, cook for 1 minute and remove from heat.
- Run the custard through a sieve, if desired, and transfer into a clean bowl and cover with a plastic wrap, so it touches the cream and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours. (TIP: Don’t be alarmed if your chilled pastry cream looks too thick and lumpy. Simply whisk it until smooth again.)
- Optional step: whip heavy whipping cream till hard peaks form. Fold in the whipped cream into the chilled pastry cream and gently fold until well combined. This's called creme diplomat.
Tips & Notes:
Refrigerate pastry cream in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Make sure to cover it with a plastic wrap touching the entire surface of the custard to prevent unpleasant skin forming.
This post was originally published on May 25th, 2013.
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