How To Make Pastry Cream
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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!
- Classic Chocolate Ganache
- Homemade Whipped Cream
- Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Cream Cheese Frosting
- Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
- 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
- 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.
What is the difference between this custard and vanilla pudding? Are they interchangeable? Thanks in advance!
Hi, Deb! Pastry cream is thicker and richer compared to vanilla pudding. It would be okay to use one or the other for something like filling cupcakes. If you’re wanting the mixture to be thicker, for like a cream pie, then you would want to stick with pastry cream.
I just want to take a minute to thank you for all of your recipe’s !! I have been following you for a few years now and get daily recipe emails and I have became a much better baker with them and your help of course !!!!
My family also thanks you as they enjoyed ALL of my new efforts.
Thanks again and thanks so much for sharing !!
Thank you, Denise! So happy to hear that!
Could I use heavy whipping cream in place of the milk?
You could replace half of the milk with heavy cream.
I only have a question. What is pastry cream used for? Can you eat pastry cream used like you would use puddings.
You can use it for different things! It works great as a filling for pies or tarts. Or you can use it to fill donuts, cream puffs, etc. It’s similar to vanilla pudding, but it’s thicker. If you’re looking for a vanilla pudding recipe, I have a homemade version in my banana pudding recipe here.
I found this recipe on Pinterest and I used it for cream puffs. I made it a day ahead, and before I piped it into my buns I folded in some whipped cream (1/2 cup) which just gave it a lighter texture. It was amazing! I got so many compliments on them. I was skeptical because I had never attempted anything like this before but I was so impressed with how they turned out. I didn’t have a fine mesh strainer but there were really no noticeable lumps after stirring the cream the next day. I’m going to attempt to make them again but experiment with espresso flavored cream this week! Thank you for all the tips!
Please send me the tutorial on making a pie crust. I am 80 years old and would like to make a decent pie crust in my life time. My mother in law baked all the holiday pies and now that she is gone it’s time to learn.
Thanks so much. Roberta
Hi, Roberta! You can find the blog post here.
I love this pastry cream. It comes together so quickly and the flavor is delicious, light, and not heavy. I’ve made this half a dozen times for church functions. Oh-My-Gosh! They loved it. I piped it in tart shells and topped it with various kinds of fruit. I piped it in puff pastry I had wrapped around cannoli forms. OMG! I thought some would swoon. I love this and just wanted to thank you for posting this easy recipe.