This easy pastry cream recipe can be used to fill cream puffs, eclairs, cakes, cupcakes, and so much more! Every baker needs to know how to make this versatile custard filling. 

A small glass jar filled with vanilla pastry cream. The jar rests on an overturned bowl. More pastry cream rests in the background.

What Is Pastry Cream? 

Whether or not you realized it at the time, I bet you’ve had pastry cream at least once in your life. It’s essentially an ultra thick custard that’s used to fill any number of baked goods. You may know pastry cream by its French name, crème pâtissière. Whatever you call it, it’s delicious! 

You can use pastry cream to fill cream puffs, eclairs, or donuts. It can also be used as a filling for cakes or fruit tarts. 

Homemade pastry cream requires some patience, but once you know the method it’s actually very simple to make. Note that this recipe requires some advance preparation, as the pastry cream needs to chill in the fridge for two to three hours before it can be used.

Overhead view of the ingredients needed to make pastry cream filling.

Recipe Ingredients 

For this recipe, I made a standard vanilla pastry cream. You can use this recipe as a base to make many other flavors, but I wanted to start with the basics. Here’s an overview of what goes into this recipe: 

  • Granulated sugar: Sweetens the pastry cream. 
  • Cornstarch: Also called cornflour in some countries. The cornstarch helps thicken the mixture and makes it perfect for filling pastries and cakes. 
  • Milk: I recommend using whole milk, anything with a lower fat content won’t be quite as rich or creamy.
  • Eggs: You will only be using the egg yolks. You can use any leftover egg whites in my white cake recipe.
  • Vanilla: Be sure to use pure vanilla extract, imitation won’t provide the same flavor. You can also use an equal amount of vanilla bean paste.
  • Butter: Always use unsalted butter when baking. The amount of salt in salted butters can vary widely between brands. 

How to Make Pastry Cream 

Whisk together the cornstarch and sugar in a large saucepan first. This will ensure that there are no lumps of dry ingredients in the final pastry cream filling. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and milk. Then, slowly whisk the milk mixture into the dry ingredients.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. I recommend using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan while the mixture is on the stove. You want to be sure to whisk or stir continuously too, otherwise the mixture may stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. 

Warm pastry cream in a saucepan. A rubber spatula rests inside the pan.

After the mixture has boiled for about one minute, remove it from the heat, and stir in the butter and vanilla extract. Stirring the vanilla in at the end will preserve the flavor much better. 

Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a heat-proof bowl, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface. This will prevent it from forming a skin on top.

Refrigerate it for two to three hours, or until it’s chilled. The mixture will be a little thick after it’s chilled (like the picture below), so be sure to whisk it well before using it to ensure that it’s nice and smooth.

Vanilla pastry cream that's been chilled and allowed to set. The pastry cream is in a speckled white bowl.

Can I Make This Recipe in Advance? 

Yes! This is a great recipe to prepare in advance if you’re making a multi-step dessert like cream puffs or eclairs. It will need to chill for at least two hours, but will last up to five days in the fridge. Be sure to place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface so that it doesn’t form a skin. 

A straight on image of pastry cream in a glass jar. The jar is sitting on top of an overturned bowl.

Cooking Tips 

  • Use full-fat milk and regular butter for this recipe. You need the fat from the dairy to make a creamy, thick pastry cream. 
  • Continually stir the mixture while it cooks on the stove. If you don’t stir it, it may cling to the sides of the saucepan and burn. 
  • Before setting the custard in the fridge to chill, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of it. This will prevent a film from forming.
  • I don’t recommend freezing this pastry cream because it will change the texture of it quite a bit.

More Basic Baking Techniques to Master! 

Video Tutorial

A small glass jar filled with vanilla pastry cream. The jar rests on an overturned bowl.

Pastry Cream

Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Chilling Time: 2 hrs
Total Time: 2 hrs 30 mins
This easy pastry cream recipe can be used to fill cream puffs, eclairs, cakes, cupcakes, and so much more! Every baker needs to know how to make this versatile custard filling. 

Ingredients

Servings: 2 1/4 cups
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (32 grams) cornstarch (or cornflour)
  • 2 cups (480 ml) whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter , sliced into tablespoon-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • In a large saucepan, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch until well combined. Set aside.
  • In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk and egg yolks until fully combined. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the saucepan with the sugar and cornstarch mixture and whisk until fully combined.
  • Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil stirring continuously (I suggest using a rubber spatula to scrape around the bottom and sides of the pan a few times). Allow to boil for one minute, the mixture should be pretty thick at this point. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, one tablespoon at a time, then stir in the vanilla extract.
  • Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a heat-proof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, placing the plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard, and refrigerate until chilled, about 2 to 3 hours.
  • Once the mixture is thoroughly chilled and you are ready to use it, whisk it until it’s smooth.

Notes

Storage Instructions: Pastry cream may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Be sure to place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface so that it doesn't form a skin.
Milk: I recommend using whole milk for this recipe, anything with a lower fat content won't provide the same rich and creamy texture.
Vanilla Extract: Be sure to use pure vanilla extract for the best flavor. You may also use an equal amount of vanilla bean paste if you prefer.
Cuisine: French
Course: Dessert
Author: Danielle
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