Pastry cream is a breeze to make, but most people shrug their shoulders and pick up a box of instant vanilla pudding instead. Not in this kitchen! Ditch the box and learn how to make your own pastry cream from scratch.
Not everyone goes around calling it pastry cream. The French call it crème pâtissière and the popular North American term is pudding, but in my circle, it’s called pastry cream, so that’s what I’m going with.
It’s a simple concoction of milk, eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla. Some recipes call for butter to give it an added richness, but while butter makes everything better, it’s completely optional.
PASTRY CREAM RECIPE VIDEO
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BYE, BYE INSTANT PUDDING!
Pudding is basically pastry cream, and once you learn how to make it yourself, you won’t want to go back. We’re going to do something that I like doing quite a bit in the grocery store, which is looking at an ingredients label. Let’s take a look at what a popular pudding brand puts in its instant mix, shall we?
Sodium Phosphates (these are salts)
Artificial Flavour (What, really? I'm shocked.)
Hydrogenated Soybean Oil
Xanthan Gum (used for thickening)
Mono- and Diglycerides (to extend the shelf life)
Colour (contains tartrazine, which gives it that nice yellow colouring)
Why would anyone want to taint their milk with that? Another question. Why would anyone want to eat that?
Okay, now let’s compare that ghastly ingredient list to mine:
Sugar (you can use raw, organic sugar if you'd like)
Eggs (mostly yolks)
Homemade vanilla extract (or storebought extract, vanilla bean, or vanilla bean paste)
MAKING PASTRY CREAM FROM SCRATCH
Instant pudding’s best selling point is that it’s easy and convenient. Just add milk, whisk it together, and voila! True, there’s a bit more elbow grease involved in making your own from scratch, but it’s simple, I promise.
I’ll take you through it step-by-step below, but here’s a rough overview: heat the milk; beat the eggs, sugar and cornstarch; add the vanilla to the simmering milk; add half the milk to the egg mixture to temper, and then whisk everything together in the pot until it thickens.
Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Easy peasy!
What you get is something pure and infinitely more satisfying and delicious, especially if you beat in a bit of butter at the end.
WHAT CAN I USE PASTRY CREAM FOR?
At the end of the day, this is vanilla pudding–or chocolate, or coffee, or whatever flavour you fancy–so you can eat it as is.
Serve it in bowls with a dollop of whipped cream and a handful of fresh berries for an effortless dessert, or consider some of these possibilities.
LAYER IT IN A TRIFLE
Find a large glass serving bowl and layer it with ladyfingers (these can be soaked in coffee, liqueur, or strawberry juice), and alternate with layers of berries, pastry cream and whipped cream.
FRESH FRUIT TARTS
Bake yourself some sweet pie shells, coat them in a thin layer of chocolate, and fill them with pastry cream.
The chocolate is a delightful surprise for people who aren’t expecting it, and it also prevents the shell from getting soggy.
Decorate with your choice of fresh fruit: berries, grapes, kiwis, starfruit, apricots, and pineapple are terrific options.
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Use it as a filling. Boston cream doughnuts, anyone?
If you’re lucky to have choux pastry shells lurking in your freezer, this dessert is a breeze to make.
If you have some extra time on your hands, you can learn how to make your own shells for eclairs and profiteroles.
Fill eclair shells with pastry cream and dip them in chocolate.
Sprinkle the profiteroles with icing sugar and watch them disappear before your eyes.
VARIOUS CAKES AND PASTRIES
There are so many classic cake recipes that call for pastry cream, including…
Boston Cream Pie
RELATED: How to Make Choux Pastry
USE IT TO MAKE OTHER TYPES OF PASTRY CREAMS
Pastry cream doesn’t need to be accepted as is. It can be lightened and turned into other creams that are used in French pastry.
Chiboost Cream: the love child of when pastry cream meets Italian meringue.
Crème Légère–better known as Diplomat Cream–is a combination of stabilized whipped cream and pastry cream. Whipped cream weeps if it's not stabilized, so gelatine helps it keep its structural integrity.
Mousseline Cream: what you get when you whip pastry cream with butter.
CAN I FLAVOUR MY PASTRY CREAM?
Pastry cream is versatile and can be flavoured with chocolate, coffee, fruit, liqueurs, and spices to suit your needs. Here are a few options:
Whisk in a heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder along with the eggs, sugar and cornstarch. At the very end, once the pastry cream has thickened, stir in a cup (150g) of chopped bittersweet chocolate until everything’s incorporated.
Mix in 3 teaspoons of instant coffee granules either with or in place of the vanilla. To balance it out, add a couple of tablespoons of sugar to the recipe.
Swap out 1/3 cup of the milk with fruit puree. Add it to the milk along with the tempered egg mixture.
Whisk in 2 or 3 teaspoons of Matcha powder to the egg mixture, ensuring there are no lumps.
Add 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon for a warm, full flavour.
INGREDIENTS FOR VANILLA PASTRY CREAM
2 cups (484g) whole milk
1 tbsp (13g) vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
3 eggs yolks
1 egg, whole
1/4 cup (30g) cornstarch
2 tbsp (28g) unsalted butter (optional)
PASTRY CREAM INSTRUCTIONS
Whisk the yolks, egg, sugar and corn starch together in a large bowl.
Slowly bring the milk to a simmer and add the vanilla.
Pour half of the hot milk in with the egg mixture to temper the eggs.
Transfer the egg mixture to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.
Once thickened, remove from heat. If you want to add butter, stir it in now.
Transfer to a bowl and immediately cover with saran wrap to keep a film from forming.
Use an immersion blender to get the smoothest possible finish once the pot comes off the stove.
For faster cooling, transfer the pastry cream to a tray or cookie sheet lined with plastic wrap.
Pastry cream firms up when it's cool. To get back the smooth finish, put your stand mixer to work for a minute or two with a paddle attachment.
Avoid using an aluminum pot if you don't want your pastry cream to have a grey tinge.
Never freeze pastry cream and be sure to use it within four days.
Don't throw out your egg whites! Start a container in your fridge and save them up to make a meringue or an egg white omelet. Waste not, want not, that's my motto!
By the way, if you go the path of using a vanilla pod as opposed to an extract, make sure to put the vanilla bean scraps to good use!
PRINT PASTRY CREAM RECIPE
Vanilla Pastry Cream
- 2 cups 484g whole milk
- 1 tbsp 13g vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup 100g sugar
- 3 eggs yolks
- 1 egg whole
- 1/4 cup 30g corn starch
- 2 tbsp 28g non-salted butter (optional)
- Whisk the yolks, egg, sugar and corn starch together in a large bowl.
- Slowly bring the milk to a simmer and add the vanilla.
- Pour half of the hot milk in with the egg mixture to temper the eggs.
- Transfer the egg mixture to the pot and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.
- Once thickened, remove from heat. If you want to add butter, stir it in now.
- Transfer to a bowl and immediately cover with saran wrap to keep a film from forming.