Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière)

If you're a baker, even if it's just a tiny bit, pastry cream needs to be a part of your arsenal, hands down. Pastry cream is a type of custard, in which milk or cream and egg yolk (at times a combination of whole egg and yolk) are cooked to a thickened mixture. Its uses - fillings for cakes, cupcakes, and pastries; cream pie filling; and if thinned down, it can be used as a custard sauce.

I use the Deluxe Pastry Cream recipe variation found in my Le Cordon Bleu textbook Professional Baking 4th Edition by Wayne Gisslen. The addition of notes in [ ] are from experience.

Makes 1 1/8 qt

Ingredients

  • 2 lb (1 qt) milk [whole milk or 50/50 half-n-half and 2% milk]
  • 4 oz granulated sugar
  • 7 oz egg yolks [at room temperature]
  • 2.5 oz cornstarch
  • 4 oz granulated sugar
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 0.5 oz (1 tbsp) vanilla extract [or vanilla bean paste]

Directions

  1. [Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with plastic film.]
  2. In a heavy saucepan or kettle, dissolve the sugar in the milk and bring just to a boil.
  3. With a whip [I call it a whisk], beat the egg yolks in a stainless-steel bowl.
  4. Sift the cornstarch and sugar into the eggs. Beat with the whip [<sigh>] until perfectly smooth.
  5. Temper the egg mixture by slowly beating in the hot milk in a thin stream. [It helps to use a ladle to add the hot milk. To avoid bowl slippage, place a damp towel under the bowl to stabilize it.]
  6. Return the mixture to the heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. [Boil for 1 minute - this is to completely cook the starch and prevent the disaster of having a raw, starchy taste to your cream.]
  7. When the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, remove from the heat.
  8. Stir in the butter and vanilla. Mix until the butter is melted and completely blended in.
  9. [Pour out onto prepared sheet pan. Cover with plastic film to prevent a crust from forming.] Cool and chill as quickly as possible.
  10. Whip the chilled pastry cream until smooth before using.

Variations

Pastry Cream Mousseline

For a lighter pastry cream filling, fold whipped heavy cream into the chilled pastry cream. Quantities may be varied to taste. In general, for every 1 qt pastry cream, use 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

For each 12 oz pastry cream, stir in 4 oz melted dark chocolate while the pastry cream is still warm (100 g chocolate for each 300 g pastry cream).

[Peanut Butter Pastry Cream]

[For each 12 oz pastry cream, stir in 4 oz creamy peanut butter].

And some notes from me...

  • You can infuse flavorings into your pastry cream by adding ingredients to the hot milk. For example: (1) toasted nuts - toasting brings out the oils to ease infusing; (2) whole spices - star anise, cinnamon sticks, or cardamom pods; (3) citrus peels - these are potent and should not be in the hot milk for too long; (4) fresh herbs - mint, sweet basil, lemon verbena, etc.
  • Add liquor or liqueurs for flavor! Or use a bit of liquor or liqueur to thin the pastry cream to make a boozy custard sauce.
  • Pastry cream mousseline is heavenly with fresh fruit. Use in parfaits and trifles instead of whipped cream.

Don't be afraid to experiment!