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Pastry Cream – An Essential Recipe

Vanilla Pastry Cream is used it to fill cream puffs or eclairs. But that’s just the beginning. One vanilla custard recipe, so many possibilities.

Cream puff filled with pastry cream

In a professional pastry kitchen we don’t reinvent the wheel for every single dish. We have a repertoire of what I’m calling, “essential recipes”. 

There is no need to have a different vanilla cake recipe for every layer cake that you make. Once you have a recipe that you can rely on, just use a different filling or icing with the same cake and you have a whole new dessert.

Italian Meringue Buttercream can be flavored with chocolate, fruit, liquor, coffee, etc. One recipe, endless possibilities.

That’s what an essential recipe is. One recipe that is the basis for an unlimited number of desserts and pastries. Vanilla Pastry cream is definitely an essential recipe. 

Banana Cream Pie

What is Pastry Cream?

Pastry Cream is a custard. A custard is simply a liquid (often a dairy product) that is thickened with eggs. Creme Anglaise is a custard sauce, and Lemon curd is a custard made with fruit juice.

The difference between Vanilla Pastry Cream and Vanilla Creme Anglaise is that Pastry Cream has starch added to thicken the custard to hold it’s shape once it’s cooled.

Whereas Creme Anglaise flows and is used as a sauce, pastry cream is thick enough to fill a cake, tart or pastry and hold it’s shape when sliced.

triple chocolate pie

Tips for making Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • For a richer pastry cream you can use half and half or replace half the milk with heavy cream.
  • Do not let the milk mixture come to a full boil. When the milk is steaming and you see lots of little bubbles around the edges and foam across the surface, the milk is scalded and ready to mix with the eggs. 
  • Whisk the eggs and yolks with the corn starch until smooth. This will prevent lumps from forming when the starch is added to the hot milk. 
  • If you don’t want alcohol you can leave the rum out.
  • Place waxed paper or buttered parchment directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming as the custard chills.
  • Avoid stirring or whisking the pastry cream after it’s chilled. If you vigorously stir chilled custard you’ll break the starch bonds and the custard will become soupy. 
  • Chilled pastry cream will keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

What to do with pastry cream?

Watch the recipe video to see how make make perfect Vanilla Pastry Cream.

 
a slice of pina colada pie
Pina Colada Pie

Now that you’ve made this recipe what should you do with all the extra egg whites? Check out this collection of recipes that use extra whites for some great ideas.

If you love this recipe as much as I do, please consider leaving a 5-star review.

Cream puff filled with pastry cream

Pastry Cream

Yield: 2 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Vanilla Pastry Cream is an essential baking recipe. Use it to fill cream puffs or eclairs. Add chocolate or bananas for a cream pie filling. Put it under fresh fruit in a tart shell, or between layers of puff pastry for napoleons. One essential recipe, so many possibilities.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (8 oz, 240 ml) whole milk
  • 1/3 cup (3 oz, 84g) granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons (.75 oz, 20g) corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz, 28g) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons (.3 oz, 10g) dark rum (optional)

Instructions

  1. Place the milk, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add the seeds and pod to the milk. Heat over medium high until scalding.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl use a hand whisk to combine the eggs, yolks and cornstarch until smooth.
  3. Whisk the scalding milk into the egg mixture, then return the custard to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to boil.
  4. Immediately strain the pastry cream back into a the bowl. Add the butter and rum. Stir until the butter is melted.
  5. Cover with waxed paper or buttered parchment directly on the surface and cool to room temperature, chill several hours or overnight until completely cooled and set.

Notes

Variations: To make chocolate pastry cream, add 4 oz of chopped semi sweet chocolate with the butter and rum. Stir until all the chocolate is melted.

To make coffee pastry cream add 1 Tbsp of espresso powder to the scalded milk.

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Cynthia

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Where does the butter go in the recipe?

Eileen Gray

Thursday 21st of May 2020

Step 4 says "Add the butter and rum. Stir until the butter is melted."

Miri

Sunday 18th of March 2018

I noticed the custard in the video is more yellow color and the consistency of regular custard. The custard showing in the eclairs pictures is white and very airy and fluffy. It doesn’t look the same . How do you add to the regular custard to create the whiter fluffy look and texture?

Eileen Gray

Monday 19th of March 2018

Hi Miri, you have a good eye!! The filling in the cream puffs does have cream added. The recipe for the puffs and the filling is in the link.

Deb Nugent

Thursday 8th of February 2018

Would almond or coconut milk work? Need something lactose free

Eileen Gray

Thursday 8th of February 2018

Hi Deb, I use a mix of coconut milk & whole milk to make pastry cream for my Pina Colada Pie. You can make it with all coconut milk if you can't do regular milk. I haven't specifically tried almond milk, but I'm pretty sure it would work. Let me know if you try it.