Pastry cream gets its name because it is used in SO MANY pastry desserts. Its super creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture makes the perfect base for fresh fruit tarts, donuts, custard desserts, and even cake filling. It only takes 15 minutes (active time) to make!
What Is Pastry Cream?
This pastry cream recipe is very similar to my coconut custard recipe although custards are typically poured into a dish while still hot and then served warm while pastry cream is almost always served cold but the two are pretty interchangeable.
Pastry cream is also similar to vanilla pudding except that vanilla pudding usually does not have eggs and is only thickened by cornstarch, very similar to a custard.
Bavarian cream is similar to pastry cream except that it is thickened by gelatin instead of cornstarch.
So why all the names for basically the same thing? It all depends on how you use it. So don't get hung up on the name.
Turns out I had been eating this creamy dessert in all kinds of things and I didn't even know it. The first time I made a pastry cream recipe in culinary school, I didn't even know what I was making. I thought it was some super fancy filling that only French chefs knew about. When I tasted it, I was like oh duh, I know what this is! It's donut filling haha!
Pastry cream is basically vanilla-flavored milk and sugar thickened by some eggs and cornstarch (similar to ice cream but not frozen).
Pastry Cream Recipe Step-By-Step
Step 1 – Bring milk and first quantity of sugar (5 oz) to a simmer over medium-high heat. Whisking constantly to avoid burning.
Step 2 – In a separate, large heatproof bowl, combine the eggs, cornstarch, vanilla extract, and the second quantity of sugar (4 oz), whisk to combine.
Step 3 – Once the milk is simmering, turn off the heat and add ¼ of your hot milk mixture to the egg mixture VERY slowly while whisking constantly. This is going to temper (slowly heat) your egg yolk mixture and avoid curdled scrambled eggs. Whisk until smooth.
Pro Tip: The key to a perfect pastry cream recipe is to temper the eggs. This means to heat them a little bit at a time so you don't shock (aka cook) them. If you just dump all the hot milk into the eggs right away you'll cook them and end up with egg lumps in your pastry cream.
Step 4 – Turn the heat back on (medium) and slowly add the mixture to the rest of the milk in your saucepan, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer.
Step 5 – Once your mixture starts bubbling, continue whisking for 1 minute to ensure the mixture is cooked and properly thickened.
Step 6 – Pour your mixture into a heatproof container. Divide the softened butter into cubes and place them on top of the pastry cream, allowing them to melt. Do not cover the bowl.
Step 7 – Allow your pastry cream to cool at room temperature until just warm to the touch and the butter begins to harden around the edges. This will take a few hours. Do not refrigerate.
Step 8 – Stir in your butter with a whisk. Don't be worried if it looks curdled at first, this is normal. Just keep whisking until smooth.
Pro Tip - Blend the pastry cream with an immersion blender to make it extra smooth.
Step 9 – Cover with plastic wrap so that it's touching the surface of the pastry cream to avoid a skin forming. Chill before using. Can be kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. You cannot freeze pastry cream.
Why is my pastry cream runny?
Egg yolks contain a protein called amylase that will actually break down and get watery if it's not cooked all the way. This pastry cream is thickened by cooking the egg yolks and corn starch within the liquid.
So make sure you cook it for long enough after it starts bubbling!
How do I store my pastry cream?
Pastry cream should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and used as quickly as possible. It can be used in fresh fruit tarts or cakes has a shelf life of no more than 2 days.
Before refrigerating, make sure to wrap it well with plastic wrap and press the plastic up against the top of the cream. This will prevent it from getting dried-out skin on the top.
Why did my pastry cream separate?
Why is my pastry cream lumpy?
How can I make this dairy-free?
You can make this pastry cream dairy-free by substituting the milk for any other type of milk like almond or soy. You can also leave out the butter or use vegan butter.
Want more creamy desserts? Check these out!
- 32 oz milk may sub: almond, soy, coconut etc
- 5 oz sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 oz cornstarch
- 4 oz sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 large egg
- 4 oz unsalted butter
Pastry Cream Recipe Instructions
- Bring milk and first quantity of sugar to a simmer over medium high heat. Whisking constantly to avoid burning.
- Combine the eggs, cornstarch, and second quantity of sugar in a heat proof bowl and whisk to combine
- Add ¼ of your hot milk mixture to the egg mixture VERY slowly while whisking constantly to temper your egg yolk mixture. Whisk until smooth.
- Slowly add the rest of the milk, whisking constantly. Return mixture to the saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Once your mixture starts bubbling, reduce the heat to medium and continue whisking for 2-3 minutes to ensure the mixture is cooked and properly thickened.
- Pour your mixture into a heatproof container and place your butter cubes on top, allowing them to melt. Do not cover.
- Allow your pastry cream to cool until just warm to the touch. Stir in your butter and then add in your vanilla extra.
- Cover with plastic wrap so that it's touching the surface of the pastry cream to avoid a skin forming. Can be kept in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- Pro Tip: The key to a perfect pastry cream recipe is to temper the eggs. This means to heat them a little bit at a time so you don't shock (aka cook) them. If you just dump all the hot milk into the eggs right away you'll cook them and end up with egg lumps in your pastry cream.
- If your pastry cream is lumpy, don’t worry! Try pushing your pastry cream through a strainer or using an immersion blender.
- You can make this pastry cream dairy-free by substituting the milk for any other type of milk like almond or soy. You can also leave out the butter.
- Pastry cream lasts up to 3 days in the refrigerator and has a shelf life of no more than 2 days. Before refrigerating, wrap with plastic wrap and press the plastic up against the pastry cream to prevent it from getting a skin.