The Key to the Ideal Pastry Cream

The Key to the Ideal Pastry Cream

Pastry cream, also known as crème pâtissière, is a versatile and essential component in many classic desserts. Achieving the ideal pastry cream involves attention to detail and a few key steps. Here’s how to make a perfect pastry cream:


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Heat the Milk:
    • In a medium saucepan, heat the milk with half of the sugar (1/4 cup) over medium heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Heat until the milk is hot but not boiling.
  2. Whisk the Egg Yolks and Dry Ingredients:
    • In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, remaining sugar (1/4 cup), cornstarch, and a pinch of salt until the mixture is smooth and pale.
  3. Temper the Egg Mixture:
    • Gradually pour about half of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly to temper the eggs. This process prevents the eggs from curdling.
  4. Cook the Pastry Cream:
    • Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk.
    • Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Once it starts to boil, cook for an additional 1-2 minutes to ensure the cornstarch is fully cooked and the pastry cream is thickened.
  5. Add Butter and Vanilla:
    • Remove the saucepan from heat.
    • Stir in the butter and vanilla extract until fully incorporated and smooth.
  6. Cool the Pastry Cream:
    • Pour the pastry cream into a clean bowl.
    • Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.
    • Allow it to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until thoroughly chilled and set, about 2 hours.

Tips for the Ideal Pastry Cream:

  • Smooth Texture: Ensure you whisk constantly while cooking to prevent lumps. If lumps do form, you can pass the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve to smooth it out.
  • Rich Flavor: Use whole milk for a rich, creamy texture. You can also add a splash of heavy cream for extra richness.
  • Flavor Variations: For different flavors, infuse the milk with vanilla beans, coffee, citrus zest, or other flavorings before tempering the eggs.
  • Storage: Pastry cream can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Make sure it’s well-covered to prevent it from absorbing any odors.

Usage Ideas:

  • Fillings: Use pastry cream as a filling for éclairs, cream puffs, tarts, and cakes.
  • Dessert Base: It can be a base for fruit tarts or layered desserts like trifle.
  • Accompaniment: Serve with fresh berries or as a dip for cookies.

By following these steps and tips, you’ll achieve a pastry cream that’s smooth, rich, and perfect for all your baking needs.