A staple of French pastry, this classic pastry cream (or crème pâtissière en Français) is a lightly sweet, versatile custard that can be used as a filling for tarts, choux, trifles, or just about any dessert you can think of!
What can you say about a classic? It’s never not out of style, and useful in a multitude of ways. And such is this pastry cream–it’s never out of place, whether in a simple fruit tart or a fancy mille-feuille. It can fill a layer cake or eclair, with a subtly sweet vanilla flavor that holds it’s own but still complements and enhances the other flavor elements of your dessert. The texture is creamy and smooth, but you can fold in a bit of whipped cream to make it fluffier and lighter if you choose.
This recipe is based on the one found in Julia Child’s classic The Way to Cook. While the book covers everything from roasting vegetables to aspics (not recommended) to sauces, the most worn chapters in my copy are the pastry and bread chapters. They contain many classics, the mastery of which can be a powerful starting point to build an impressive baking repertoire. I did tweak the recipe, as the original was a bit more starchy than I preferred. By simply reducing the flour and adding another egg yolk to maintain the thickness I ended up with a pastry cream that was smoother on the tongue.
How to Make Classic Pastry Cream
- Begin by setting out and prepping all of your ingredients to avoid something scorching when you get to the next step. Also, set out a clean bowl with a fine mesh sieve placed over it.
- Separate the egg yolks and whites and put the yolks in a bowl. Whisk in the sugar, salt, and flour until you have a thick, smooth paste that has lightened to a pale yellow–this will take 3-4 minutes by hand.
- Bring the milk to a simmer over medium low heat, then remove it from the heat. Slowly pour a trickle into the egg yolks while whisking to warm the yolks slowly and prevent them from curdling or scrambling.
- Return the entire mixture to the pan and cook over medium heat again, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and allow it to cook and bubble for another 2-3 minutes, or until it’s thickened.
- Remove it from the stove top and pour the pastry cream through the sieve into the bowl beneath to catch any bits of cooked egg yolk.
- Quickly stir in the butter and vanilla extract or paste until the butter has completely melted.
- If you want to serve or use the pastry cream cold, place a layer of plastic wrap directly on the top of the cream and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 2-4 hours.
- The pastry cream is now ready to use and can be used any way you like.
How do you know when Pastry Cream is done?
Determining when it’s thick enough and finished cooking is the trickiest bit of making pastry cream! Getting a good feel for when it’s ready may seem daunting, but it’s completely doable!
After adding the milk and egg mixture back into the pan, you’ll see it thickening as you cook it. By the time the pastry cream reaches the “boiling” stage, the bubbles will be thick and sluggish, rising to the surface and popping slowly. Allow it to finish cooking for an extra 2 minutes. It may not thicken drastically during that time, but the starch and egg yolks are still cooking, both of which will give a thicker finished product. Keep in mind that the pastry cream will set and thicken as it cools in the refrigerator, so don’t be concerned if it’s not as thick as you think it should be right after cooking it.
Also, be sure to allow it to set completely in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. A sheet of plastic wrap (also called cling film) set right on top will help prevent a thick, tough skin from forming on the top of the pastry cream.
Recipe Notes and Tips
- Monitor your pastry cream while it’s cooking and stir constantly! Milk, sugar, and eggs will all scorch fairly quickly, so keep a very close eye on the temperature.
- Don’t throw out those leftover egg whites! They can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to make other delicious things like pavlovas.
Other Recipes You May Enjoy:
A staple of French pastry, this classic pastry cream is a lightly sweet, versatile custard that can be used as a filling for tarts, choux, trifles, or just about any dessert you can think of!
- 2 cups (16 oz.) whole milk
- 1/3 cup (67 g) white sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3 Tbsp. (24 g) all purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
Set a large sieve over a medium mixing bowl. In a small mixing bowl, whisk the flour into the egg yolks a bit at a time until it’s smooth and there are no lumps in it. It will be a thick, pasty consistency. Set it aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and salt. Heat it over medium low while stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the milk is steaming. Slowly drip it into the egg paste while stirring vigorously. Work about half of the milk into the eggs, then return all of it back to the saucepan.
Cook the milk mixture over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and begins to bubble. Let it cook for another 2 minutes, still stirring, then pour it through the sieve, carefully stirring to help it pass through.
Stir in the vanilla and butter until it has melted. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the pastry cream, then refrigerate it for at least 6 hours, or until the cream has completely cooled and thickened.
Use the pastry cream to fill tarts, eclairs or cream puffs, trifles, mille feuille, or simply serve with fresh fruit.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Pastry
- Method: Boiling
- Cuisine: French
Keywords: pastry cream recipe, french pastry, creme patissiere, tart filling,