Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

Aug. 1, 2019

Written By: Adriana

The Queen of fillings is indisputably pastry cream; once you learn how to make it, you'll open the door to a world of tasty and unbelievably impressive desserts.


What is pastry cream?

Pastry cream is a thick and silky smooth custard. It is incredibly versatile and can be flavored with spices (vanilla, cinnamon), chocolates and other ingredients (honey, maple syrup, etc.). It is excellent plain (flavored with vanilla) or can be viewed as a 'blank canvas' for you. This is a chance to impart flavor and personality to your desserts!

The ingredients for this recipe are probably already hanging around your kitchen and include:

  • milk,
  • eggs,
  • sugar,
  • cornstarch,
  • butter,
  • salt,
  • and vanilla (or other flavorings).


There are different recipes out there. Some use whole eggs vs just the yolks, and some use heavy cream instead of milk. For the thickener, we typically use flour or cornstarch. While all these ingredients can make a lovely pastry cream, each choice will affect the thickness and flavor of the finished cream.

My recipe uses egg yolks and whole milk, because I like a less-eggy aftertaste yet stability that only yolks provide and light n' airy texture from using milk instead of cream. In my recipe below I also listed half&half, which yields a slightly denser pastry cream. Both work equally well. 😊

What is pastry cream used for?

Pastry cream is one of those wondrous things in the dessert world because of its versatility.

Here's a short list of pastry cream uses for you:

  • Eclair filling
  • Cream puffs
  • Between cake layers
  • Boston Cream Pie
  • Trifles


It also is a base for many other creams in the dessert world, such as diplomat cream, which is lightened by the addition of freshly whipped cream or Chiboust Cream, which is pastry cream + gelatin.

I often make pastry cream to fill tarts, as my fruit tarts are my most requested dessert. Another common way in my house (my husband's favorite 🥰) is in banana cream pie!

How can you flavor pastry cream?

There are a couple ways to experiment with the cream in terms of flavorings. You have two ways to introduce flavor in a pastry cream:

  1. During the milk heating; or
  2. at the end when you stir in the butter.

For the milk heating process you can steep whole spices to flavor the milk: cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, a chai blend (!!), and just remove the spices during the straining process.

If you want to add extracts (almond, maple, etc.), you can simply add them at the end when stirring in your butter.

Some extra tips:

The secret to a silky smooth cream is to whisk continuously when cooking the egg/milk mixture. Whisk your heart out ... make sure you get the sides and bottom really well.

If you happen to get lumps in your finished cream, however, don't worry! Use your strainer again (wash it though since we put raw eggs through it) and push the cream through with a spatula. That should relieve you of some of the lump-age.

What happens if the pastry cream is too thick?

If you have some white chocolate lying around, toss an ounce or two in the warm cream, and this should loosen it up a bit. White chocolate is not strong in flavor at all and will lighten the cream.

Let's make some pastry cream!

Here is the written recipe ⬇️

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream

  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Bake: n/a
  • Total: 20 mins
  • Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients

Ingredient Volume Grams Ounces
  granulated sugar 1/2 cup 100g 3.5 oz
  half a vanilla bean (or 1 tsp of vanilla paste/extract) - - -
  whole milk (or half&half) 2 cups 484g 17 oz
  6 egg yolks, from large eggs 7 TB 111g 3.6 oz
  cornstarch 3 TB 28g 1 oz
  salt a pinch - -
  unsalted butter 1 TB 14g 0.5 oz

Instructions

1. In a medium saucepan, add the sugar. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use the sugar to scrub out all the seeds from the pod. Pour in your milk/half and half, whisk to combine. Turn the burner on medium-low. Slowly bringing the milk to a simmer allows the vanilla pod to infuse it with flavor. I try not to rush this step too much. (If you are using vanilla paste or extract, skip this part and just heat the milk. You will add the flavor in step 6.)

2. While the milk is heating, in large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and cornstarch together until completely combined.

3. When you see bubbles along the perimeter of the milk saucepan and steam slowly rising, turn off your burner. Slowly ladle a few tablespoons of steaming milk into the egg mixture, whisking the entire time. This allows the eggs to gradually increase in temperature. (Doing this step too quickly will cook the eggs, and will yield scrambled eggs in your pastry cream.) Add a couple more ladles of milk into the eggs and continue to whisk.

4. Pour the rest of the milk into the egg mixture, whisk to combine.

5. Pour the entire egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.

6. Turn the burner back onto medium-low and whisk until the mixture is thick and custardy, which may take a few minutes. Once you see the first steam bubble pop, whisk for about one more minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter (and vanilla paste/extract, if using) and pinch of salt.

7. Push the pastry cream through a clean strainer to get a super duper smooth texture. Or you can immediately scrape into a container (which is what I do when I'm lazy) and cover the surface with plastic wrap, and allow to cool before using.

Storage. Keeps refrigerated in a tight container for up to one week. Just remove it from the fridge and stir it until it's nice and creamy before using in your dessert. I don't recommend freezing pastry cream because it often breaks (looks like cottage cheese) upon thawing.

Hi Everyone, I'm Adriana

... the nerdy baker behind the videos and recipes here. I coded this site to not only share my recipes with you but also to build some helpful tools for bakers.

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