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Step by step guide to making silky smooth and delicious French creme patissiere. The most versatile and tasty filling for tarts, pastries, cakes and more! This guide includes detailed photos, method, frequently asked questions, uses and troubleshooting.
Creme Patissiere (Vanilla Pastry Cream) is the fundamental go-to recipe for any baker. So if you’re passionate about baking, mastering the creme pat is a very important skill. Pastry cream is easy to make and can be used on a wide range of desserts, cakes and bakes.
WHAT IS CREME PATISSIERE?
Creme Patissiere, also known as Pastry Cream, is a creamy vanilla custard used to fill pastries, cakes or tarts. Pastry cream is thickened using eggs and corn starch or flour, and has a rich and delicious flavour. Although traditionally made with vanilla, pastry cream can be made in other flavours such as chocolate, Earl Grey or strawberries.
What to make with creme patissiere
- Pastries, such as mille feuille or puff pastry
- Any type of sweet pastry, such as Chimney Cone ‘Carrots’ with Vanilla Pastry Cream
- Choux puffs or eclairs
- Fruit tarts
- Cakes or tray bakes, such as Apple Meringue Cake
- Filling for cakes, such as Double Layer Carrot Cake with Pastry Cream
- Vanilla pudding
- Just eat it with a spoon because it’s so good!
The best vanilla for pastry cream
Vanilla is the only flavour in pastry cream, so it’s extremely important you use good quality vanilla. I recommend using either real vanilla bean pods or vanilla bean paste. The latter is quicker and yields a strong vanilla flavour like the vanilla pods.
Although vanilla extract will not give a flavour as intense and authentic as vanilla bean pod or paste, it can still be used. Just make sure you use real vanilla extract, like this one. Also, the extract needs to be added at the end, once the pastry cream has been cooked. This way the flavour will have maximum impact. Adding the extract too early will make it evaporate during cooking, thus losing the flavour.
MAKING CREME PATISSIERE FROM SCRATCH
1.First we start by mixing the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. I like to use a hand mixer with whisk attachment, but you can also use a regular whisk. Beat the eggs until pale and light, the add the corn starch and mix again.
2. Heat up the milk and infuse it with the vanilla bean or paste. Once simmering, but not boiling, add 1/4 of the milk over the egg mixture, while mixing continuously.
3. Whisk the egg mixture well to prevent any lumps from forming. Adding the hot milk over the eggs tempers them, making them safe to consume. Also, this is when the pastry cream starts thickening.
4. Add the custard base back into the saucepan with milk, whisking to combine it. Place it back over medium heat, cooking it until boiling point. Make sure to keep whisking it to prevent any lumps from forming. Once the custard starts to bubble (boil), reduce the heat and cook for 1-2 minutes until thickened. When the custard looks like it’s thickened up, it’s ready to take off the heat.
5. After taking the saucepan off the heat, add in the butter and mix it in until it’s fully dissolved. The butter will add creaminess to the pastry cream, but also give it a lovely shine.
6. Immediately after, place the pastry cream in a plate or bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Ensure the plastic touches the entire surface of the creme pat, to avoid it forming a skin. Careful not to burn yourself, as the custard will still be very hot. Once covered, allow it to cool down to room temperature for 30 minutes, then let it chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When you’re ready to use it, give it a good whisk to make the cream smooth and silky again.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
No, creme patissiere is not the same thing as custard. The main difference between the two is viscosity. Custard is much more liquid and can be poured, whereas pastry cream is thicker. Custard is thickened using only eggs, whereas pastry cream is thickened with corn starch or sometimes flour. In essence, custard serves as a base for pastry cream, which is then thickened.
Yes, you can bake creme patissiere, for example as part of a tray bake or cake. However, keep in mind that the baking process will make the pastry cream thicken much more. I advise you to follow the recipe and not add more corn starch or flour even if it seems too liquid. Also, you should pay attention to the baking time, as over-baked pastry cream can become a little rubbery. Here’s an example of baked pastry cream as part of my Apple Meringue Cake.
No, creme patissiere is not suitable for freezing. Pastry cream will turn very lumpy if frozen, which is why it’s best to avoid the freezer. As pastry cream is very easy to make, it’s best you always make a fresh batch. Alternatively, you can make it in advance by 1-2 days and store it in the fridge.
Yes, creme patissiere can be made in advance by 3-4 days. Once cooked, simply ensure it’s covered with plastic wrap touching the surface. Store in the fridge in an airtight container. When you’re ready to use it, make sure you give it a good whisk or mix with a hand mixer to remove any lumps.
Yes, you can replace corn starch with flour in pastry cream. Some recipes use a combination of both flour and corn starch, and others use exclusively flour. To replace corn starch, you need twice the quantity indicated in the recipe.
Pastry cream is too runny
Pastry cream can be runny because of two reasons. Firstly, you didn’t cook it long enough. Secondly, there might not be enough corn starch for the amount of liquid.
Reason 1 – Creme patissiere will stay liquid if you haven’t cooked it long enough. It’s not enough to cook the custard until it thickens up slightly, but it needs to be brought to boiling. You can tell it’s there when the mixture starts to bubble. Afterwards, ensure you reduce the heat and cook the mixture for another 1-2 minutes. If you do not bring the custard to boiling point, the pastry cream can turn liquid again after it cools down.
How to fix: If this has happened, the pastry cream can still be saved. Reheat the pastry cream slowly and bring it to boiling point. Once bubbling, reduce the heat and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Reason 2 – Adding too little corn starch or flour will result in a runny pastry cream. The recipe provided here will give you a medium consistency pastry cream that holds a soft shape. If you’re looking for a thicker consistency, add 5-10g of extra corn starch.
How to fix: Fixing it will require you to add more corn starch or flour. To prevent lumps, mix the corn starch in a small quantity of milk (1-2 tsp). Reheat the pastry cream until it starts to bubble, then add in the corn starch slurry. Whisk it continuously as it cooks for a further 1-2 minutes. To prevent the pastry cream from burning or sticking, you might want to reheat using a double boiler.
Creme patissiere has lumps
This usually happens when you don’t whisk continuously whilst cooking the pastry cream. When cooking the cream, if you do not mix for even 1 minute can result in a lumpy pastry cream. Therefore, make sure you watch it like a hawk and mix away whilst cooking.
Lumps can also happen if you didn’t properly mix the corn starch (or flour) into the egg yolks. Make sure the dry ingredients are properly incorporated into the egg, without any lumps.
How to fix: It may be possible to save a slightly lumpy pastry cream by mixing it with a hand mixer or using an immersion blender. Do this off the heat, to prevent the cream from burning. Alternatively, you can sieve the pastry cream and get rid of those little buggers.
Pastry cream is too thick or rubbery after chilling
It’s possible you have added too much corn starch or flour. This can sometimes happen when you use measuring cups that are packed incorrectly. For this reason I recommend always using a kitchen scale in grams, to avoid any mishaps in measurements.
How to fix: Mix in a little heavy (double) cream into the pastry cream, 1-2 tsp at a time. This will rehydrate the pastry cream, making it lighter in texture. I advise you use a hand mixer or immersion blender to make it into a smooth consistency.
HOW TO STORE PASTRY CREAM
Storing pastry cream in the fridge
Pastry cream behaves the best when stored in the fridge. To store it in the fridge, apply plastic wrap in contact with the surface of the pastry cream, then place in an airtight container. Creme patissiere will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 3-4 days, making it ideal for making ahead.
Do not leave at room temperature
Pastry cream’s main ingredients are eggs and milk. If left at room temperature, they will go bad and ruin your pastry cream. Furthermore, the pastry cream will not be fit for consumption. Store in the fridge instead.
Pastry cream should not be frozen
As I’ve explained under FAQs for this recipe, pastry cream is not suitable for freezing. Placing it in the freezer will make it split or curdle, thus ruining its silky smooth texture. However, if you want to make it ahead, you can store pastry cream in the fridge.
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Creme Patissiere Recipe (Vanilla Pastry Cream)
- 500 ml milk (2 cups)
- 3 egg yolks, large
- 60 g sugar (⅓ cup)
- 30 g corn starch* (4 tbsp)
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste*
- 50 g unsalted butter (3 ½ tbsp)
- Add the milk to a nonstick saucepan, along with the vanilla. If using a vanilla pod, cut the bean lengthways and scrape out the seeds with a knife. Also add the vanilla bean pod to the milk to infuse for maximum flavour. Heat over low-medium low heat, until it gets to a simmer, but not quite boiling.
- While the milk heats up, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. Use a hand mixer or a whisk to beat the egg yolks until frothy and pale. Mix in the cornstarch in two stages, making sure it's fully incorporated into the eggy mixture.
- Once the milk is bubbling hot, gently pour 1/4 of it over the eggs, whilst whisking the mixture continuously. Mixing prevents lumps from forming, ensuring you get a silky smooth pastry cream.
- Pour the egg mixture back in with the rest of the milk, whisking vigorously to incorporate it well. Place the saucepan back over medium heat to cook the pastry cream, whilst mixing continuously. Ensure you keep a close eye on the pastry cream and keep mixing, to prevent lumps from forming. Cooking the pastry cream ensures the eggs are safe for consumption, but also thickens the cream.
- We need to bring the pastry cream to boiling temperature. Once it starts to bubble and thicken, reduce the heat and cook for another 1-2 minutes. After this, take the mixture off the heat and mix in the butter. Mix it in properly until it's fully melted into the cream. Pour the hot pastry cream into a bowl, then cover with plastic wrap. Ensure the plastic film touches the entire surface of the pastry cream, to prevent a skin from forming. Watch your fingers because it is hot!
- Let the pastry cream cool down at room temperature for half an hour, then pop it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Before using, whisk it vigorously or use a hand mixer to make the cream super smooth and silky.
- I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead.
- If you want a slightly runnier pastry cream (for pouring), use 20-25g of corn starch instead.
- Corn starch can be replaced with flour, just double the quantity (25g corn starch = 50g flour).
- You can also use vanilla extract, but it needs to be added at the end with the butter. Adding it before the cooking process will make the flavour less intense.