How to Make Pastry Cream

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Learn how to make pastry cream, a classic French stirred custard (crème pâtissière) used to fill cakes, pastries, tarts, and pies. It’s delicious plain or try one of my flavor suggestions.

A clear bowl filled with pastry cream.

 

Pastry cream is basically glorified vanilla pudding, but the best, richest vanilla pudding you’ve ever had. The texture is thicker and more luxurious, while the flavor is softer and tastes like real vanilla instead of something artificial.

It’s useful, too. You can use it in layer cakes, fruit tarts, pies like Boston Cream Pie, and pastries like eclairs. But, you can also use it to elevate any processed dessert requiring pudding into something more homemade.

It takes a few more steps than a box of pudding, but it’s not difficult and worth the effort.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled pastry cream ingredients.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Vanilla: ½ vanilla bean, split, or vanilla bean paste may be substituted for the vanilla extract.
  • Cornstarch: My trick for making a thick pastry cream that’s also gluten-free.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a medium non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until tiny bubbles appear on the surface, about 6 to 8 minutes (about 180 degrees Fahrenheit). Stir to prevent the milk from scalding.
Bringing milk to a temperature of 180 degrees for pastry cream.
  1. Meanwhile, In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cornstarch and salt into the egg mixture.
Whisking eggs and sugar together.
  1. While whisking constantly, pour in half of the hot milk.
Half of the hot milk added to the custard for pastry cream.
  1. Whisk in remaining hot milk and return to saucepan.
Stirring hot milk into pastry cream.
  1. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a firm consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in vanilla.
Cooking pastry cream until thickened.
  1. Remove from heat. Scrape into a heat-proof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream.
A clear bowl of pastry cream covered with a layer of plastic wrap.
  1. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 to 3 hours.
A clear bowl filled with pastry cream.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes just over 2 ¼ cups pastry cream, enough for one Fresh Fruit Tart or one Danish Layer Cake.
  • Storage: The pastry cream can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the fridge with plastic wrap pressed directly on its surface.
  • Butter: For a buttery flavor, softer texture, and a lovely shine, add 2 tablespoons of butter with the vanilla in Step 3. I tend to keep salted butter on hand (and I prefer the taste) so that’s what I use here, but unsalted butter is fine too. 
  • Chocolate pastry cream: Stir 2 ounces of finely chopped dark chocolate into the pastry cream with the vanilla in Step 3.
  • Coffee pastry cream: Add ½ ounce coffee extract to the pastry cream with the vanilla in Step 3.
  • Coconut pastry cream: Substitute 8 ounces (1 cup) of the whole milk with an equal amount of unsweetened canned coconut milk.
  • Mousseline pastry cream: Whip 6 ounces of heavy whipping cream to stiff peaks and fold into the chilled pastry cream. This will lighten the pastry cream and make a great filling for eclairs or cream puffs.
A Danish layer cake with a layer of pastry cream on it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pastry cream made of?

Pastry cream is made of milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla.

Is pastry cream the same as custard?

Pastry cream is a type of custard, while custard is simply a liquid (often milk) thickened with eggs.

What is pastry cream used for?

Pastry cream is an important component in many desserts including cakes (layer cakes specifically), pies, tarts, and pastries such as donuts and eclairs.

Put your pastry cream to work

How to Make Pastry Cream

Learn how to make pastry cream, a classic French stirred custard (crème pâtissière) used it to fill cakes, pastries, tarts, and pies. It’s delicious plain or try one of my flavor suggestions.

Prep Time 5 minutes

Cook Time 20 minutes

Chilling time 2 hours

Total Time 25 minutes

Servings 4 servings (½ cup each)

Course Dessert

Cuisine French

Calories 386

To make the pastry cream:

  • In a medium non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until tiny bubbles appear on the surface, about 6 to 8 minutes (about 180 degrees Farenheit). Stir to prevent the milk from scalding.
  • Meanwhile, In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cornstarch and salt. While whisking constantly, pour in half of the hot milk. Whisk in remaining hot milk and return to saucepan.

  • Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a firm consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in vanilla. Remove from heat. Scrape in to a bowl. Cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or refrigerate (cover with plastic wrap, pressing plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream).

  1. Vanilla: ½ vanilla bean, split, may be substituted for the vanilla extract.
  2. Yield: This recipe makes just over 2 ¼ cups pastry cream, enough for one Fresh Fruit Tart or one Danish Layer Cake.
  3. Storage: The pastry cream can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed directly on its surface.

Serving: 0.5 cupCalories: 386kcalCarbohydrates: 64gProtein: 8gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 306mgSodium: 206mgPotassium: 215mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 56gVitamin A: 587IUCalcium: 186mgIron: 1mg


Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.




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