Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream) 

Crème Pâtissière, also known as pastry cream, is a rich custard thickened with eggs and cornstarch. Use it as a cake filling, tart base, eclairs or donut filling, or the base for so many creams like crème mousseline, crème diplomate, crème chiboust, etc. 

Why you’ll love Crème Pâtissière 

  • It’s so rich and silky without being too eggy or too buttery. 
  • It can be used to fill cakes, pies and donuts, etc.
  • Super versatile and easy to infuse with different flavors.
  • Can be made with just egg yolks or whole eggs, whatever is more convenient.
  • Can be made with more or less starch, depending on how thick you want the pastry cream. 
  • Naturally gluten-free and can easily be made dairy free. 

This is the base for SO many recipes. I use it by itself in my creme brulee cake and my boston cream mini pies and it’s the base for my crème mousseline, crème diplomate and crème chiboust. 

What is crème Pâtissière

The world of custard can be confusing. There are so many types of cream that all seem so similar but each one is just slightly different. 

Custard in general is any type of dish where milk, cream, or cheese is thickened by eggs. This encompasses any egg based cream whether or not it has dairy, starch, etc. For reference, pudding is basically a pastry cream without eggs so it would not be considered a custard.

Pastry cream is a type of custard that generally has a higher milk to egg ratio and uses the addition of flour or cornstarch to help thicken it.

It’s traditionally made with just egg yolks but it can also be made using whole eggs. Pastry cream is very rich and silky and it should set; it should not be runny or pourable (that would be creme anglaise). It can have lower or higher amounts of starch to help it thicken more or less, depending on the consistency you are looking for.

The recipe I use is slightly adapted from the pastry cream recipe in the book Desserts by Pierre Herme written by Dorie Greenspan.

If you like learning about types of creams, check out my cookbook Frosted for 14 base frosting recipes and my downloadable guide (below) for step-by-step pictures (of recipes from Frosted) and all the troubleshooting tips!

I also have a baking basics page that includes other creams like Swiss meringue buttercream, French buttercream and Chantilly Cream

Ingredients 

  • Sugar: I use granulated sugar and this pastry cream is barely sweetened so don’t cut the sugar. I have also made it with brown sugar and it works well. 
  • Eggs: you can either use just egg yolks or whole eggs. Read below to see how I adapt the recipe to use both the whites and the yolks. I don’t recommend an egg replacement.
  • Cornstarch: this is used to thicken the pastry cream. The cream can be made with different amounts of cornstarch, depending on how thick you want the consistency. I definitely recommend a digital scale to measure this.
  • Butter: I use salted butter for pastry cream since it’s just a little but unsalted works fine too. I would add a little extra tiny pinch of sea salt if you use unsalted. 
  • Milk: I recommend full-fat milk but 2% or dairy free milk also works fine. 
  • Vanilla: See below for different flavor options but for vanilla, I like to use vanilla bean paste. Vanilla extract and vanilla beans also work, the higher the quality the better the flavor. 

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Heat the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat, just until it starts to steam and/or simmer, 1-2 minutes.

Step 2: Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk well until the mixture is completely smooth and there are no lumps. 

Step 3: Temper the eggs, by streaming the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking the eggs. Pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan and whisk continuously over medium-low heat.

Step 4: The pastry cream will begin to thicken after about just 2-3 minutes. At this point whisk aggressively for another 30-60 seconds.

Step 5: Continue whisking while you remove the pan from heat and then pour it into a bowl. Give it another good whisk, making sure there are no lumps. 

Step 6: Add the butter and vanilla and allow the heat from the pastry cream to melt the butter. It may separate at first but as you whisk, the pastry cream will come back together and should be smooth and silky.

*if you have any lumps, feel free to press the pastry cream through a sieve while it’s still warm. 

How to make pastry cream with whole eggs

Pastry cream is traditionally made with just egg yolks but sometimes, when you need a larger quantity it can be frustrating to have to use up that many leftover egg whites.

To make pastry cream using the whole egg instead of just the egg yolks, I replace three large egg yolks with 1 whole large egg.

The results are not identical but very similar – an egg yolk pastry cream is always going to be more rich, more silky, more flavorful and more yellow in color but the texture and consistency is just about the same and they can be used interchangeably.

How to flavor Crème Pâtissière

There’s a few different methods you can use to flavor pastry cream. 

  • Whisk in 2-4 Tbsp (20-40g) of cocoa powder with the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch. 
  • Fold in some melted chocolate chips/chocolate bars after it’s done – this will yield a thicker/more stiff texture once it cools. 
  • Mix in citrus zest and/or replace some of the milk (about ¼ cup) with citrus juice.
  • Fold in freeze dried ground fruit, nutella, peanut butter, cookie butter, etc. 
  • Steep the milk with vanilla beans, chai spices, teas, etc. to give it flavor before tempering the eggs. 

How to thicken Pastry Cream

In my base recipe I use 30 grams of cornstarch (corn flour) to thicken the pastry cream. This results in a medium stiffness. It’s not loose but it’s not super thick either, it holds it’s shape well when it’s chilled. I like this texture for trifles, donut fillings, cream puffs, etc.

However depending on what you’re using it for, you could thicken it more or less. Use 20 grams of cornstarch for a more loose pastry cream. This is not pipe-able but it’s still great for things like trifles, donuts or even a cake filling if you create a dam with the buttercream.

You could also thicken it more, using 40 grams of cornstarch, if you wanted to use it for something like piping on mille feuille, a Boston cream pie, or a tart filling that’s sturdy. This is stiff enough to be used on cakes without building a dam but I still wouldn’t stack it too high.

Adjusting the quantity

Conveniently most of the ingredients in this recipe can be divided in threes so you can easily scale this recipe up or down. I highly recommend using a scale to measure the cornstarch, sugar and butter.

You can make a tiny amount of pastry cream using just one egg yolks, 15 grams of sugar, 10 grams of cornstarch, 1/3 cup of milk, 1 Tbsp of butter and little vanilla and salt. To make a recipe this small, make sure to use a tiny saucepan as well and keep the heat a little lower so it doesn’t scramble.

The recipe can also easily be doubled whether you’re using 6 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs or 1 whole egg and 3 egg yolks. Just use a larger saucepan or give it a little extra time to cook.

How to use Crème Pâtissière

Pastry cream is rich, similar to a lemon curd and chocolate ganache. I would say you could use it in place of curds, ganaches and jams. 

For example, it could be used as a cake filling with a buttercream border similar to how I did my creme brulee cake.

It could be used to fill my Bavarian cream donuts – although it is very rich so I would prefer the whole egg version for this.

You could fill cupcakes with pastry cream, the same way I filled my birthday cake cupcakes.

I used pastry cream in these mini pistachio cream pies but you can also use it to fill a large pre-baked tart. 

Some other popular desserts that use pastry cream are:

Can I make it ahead of time?

You can make pastry cream 1-2 days ahead of time. To prevent a skin from forming on the top, make sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap so there is no area exposed to air. 

Refrigerate the pastry cream for a couple of days and when you’re ready to use it, gently whisk it to make it smooth again. Don’t beat it or you can break up the bonds from the cornstarch and make it runny again.

Pastry cream does not freeze well either, it will weep once it’s thawed again so I recommend using it up after a couple days in the fridge. 

Expert tips on getting the perfect cream

  • Don’t swap ingredients unless I mentioned them in the ingredient section above.
  • Don’t reduce the sugar.
  • Use a digital scale to measure the sugar, cornstarch and butter.
  • Use fresh when it’s made for the best results.
  • Use a stainless steel pan (nonstick also works but avoid aluminum). 
  • Work quickly and stay by the pastry cream cream, whisking continuously – don’t step away. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make dairy free pastry cream?

Dairy free butter and milk work great for pastry cream!

How to store pastry cream

Make sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap so it doesn’t form a skin and refrigerate it for a couple of days. Whatever dessert you use it in, make sure to refrigerate that as well or it will go bad at room temperature. 

Thanks so much for reading today’s post, if you have any questions just comment down below. 

If you make my pastry cream, I’d love it if you left a star rating for me. If it’s less than five stars, please leave a comment with the rating so I know why! 🙂

As always, have a blessed day and happy baking!

Love, B

finished pastry cream

Crème Pâtissière

Crème Pâtissière, also known as pastry cream, is a rich custard thickened with eggs and starches. Use it to fill cakes, donuts, eclairs, etc.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine French
Servings 2 cups
Calories 493 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 3 large egg yolks (or 1 whole egg) room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (45g) granulated sugar scant cup
  • 3 Tbsp (30g) cornstarch
  • tiny pinch fine sea salt
  • 1 cups (8oz) whole milk
  • 3 Tbsp (42g) salted butter room temperature
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract (OR steep 1 vanilla bean in the milk for 10-20 minutes before)

Instructions
 

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt aggressively for 1-2 minutes, until the mixture becomes smooth and runny, with no more chunks.
    3 large egg yolks (or 1 whole egg), 1/4 cup (45g) granulated sugar, 3 Tbsp (30g) cornstarch, tiny pinch fine sea salt
  • In a medium saucepan (preferably stainless steel or nonstick – avoid aluminum), heat the milk over medium heat, just until it comes to a simmer.
    1 cups (8oz) whole milk
  • Temper the eggs by streaming half of the milk into the egg mixture while continuing to whisk.
  • Dump the whole mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, while whisking continuously.
  • Within 1-3 minutes, the mixture should start to thicken, continue whisking.
  • Once it's starting to stick to the pan, whisk aggressively for another 30-60 seconds. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl with the butter and vanilla.
    2 tsp vanilla bean paste, 3 Tbsp (42g) salted butter
  • Allow the heat from the pastry cream to melt the butter for a second and then gently whisk it. It may separate at first but it'll come back together as you whisk it.
  • The pastry cream should be smooth and silky now, if you have any lumps, feel free to push it though a sieve.

Notes

3 large egg yolks = 1 large egg 
I like to use 30 grams of cornstarch for a medium stiffness. You can also do 20 grams of cornstarch for something softer thats good in a trifle. 
40 grams of cornstarch will give you a stiff texture that is good for piping. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 493kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 14gFat: 28gSaturated Fat: 15gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 339mgSodium: 289mgPotassium: 292mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 34gVitamin A: 1127IUCalcium: 198mgIron: 1mg
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Recipe Rating




  1. 5 stars
    Tried this recipe for my kids birthday breakfast, strawberries and cream crepes. The whole family loved it! I thought I had messed up because I only had 2.5 tablespoons of cornstarch, but it came out in a pudding like consistency which still worked.