How to Make Pastry Cream

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Learn how to make pastry cream, a classic French stirred custard (crème pâtissière) used to fill cakes, pastries, tarts, and pies. It’s delicious plain or try one of my flavor suggestions.

A clear bowl filled with pastry cream.


 

Pastry cream is basically glorified vanilla pudding, but the best, richest vanilla pudding you’ve ever had. The texture is thicker and more luxurious, while the flavor is softer and tastes like real vanilla instead of something artificial.

It’s useful, too. You can use it in layer cakes, fruit tarts, pies like Boston Cream Pie, and pastries like eclairs. But, you can also use it to elevate any processed dessert requiring pudding into something more homemade.

It takes a few more steps than a box of pudding, but it’s not difficult and worth the effort.

Recipe ingredients

Labeled pastry cream ingredients.

At a Glance: Here is a quick snapshot of what ingredients are in this recipe.
Please see the recipe card below for specific quantities.

Ingredient notes

  • Vanilla: ½ vanilla bean, split, or vanilla bean paste may be substituted for the vanilla extract.
  • Cornstarch: My trick for making a thick pastry cream that’s also gluten-free.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. In a medium non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until tiny bubbles appear on the surface, about 6 to 8 minutes (about 180 degrees Fahrenheit). Stir to prevent the milk from scalding.
Bringing milk to a temperature of 180 degrees for pastry cream.
  1. Meanwhile, In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cornstarch and salt into the egg mixture.
Whisking eggs and sugar together.
  1. While whisking constantly, pour in half of the hot milk.
Half of the hot milk added to the custard for pastry cream.
  1. Whisk in remaining hot milk and return to saucepan.
Stirring hot milk into pastry cream.
  1. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a firm consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in vanilla.
Cooking pastry cream until thickened.
  1. Remove from heat. Scrape into a heat-proof bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the pastry cream.
A clear bowl of pastry cream covered with a layer of plastic wrap.
  1. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 to 3 hours.
A clear bowl filled with pastry cream.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This recipe makes just over 2 ¼ cups pastry cream, enough for one Fresh Fruit Tart or one Danish Layer Cake.
  • Storage: The pastry cream can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the fridge with plastic wrap pressed directly on its surface.
  • Butter: For a buttery flavor, softer texture, and a lovely shine, add 2 tablespoons of butter with the vanilla in Step 3. I tend to keep salted butter on hand (and I prefer the taste) so that’s what I use here, but unsalted butter is fine too. 
  • Chocolate pastry cream: Stir 2 ounces of finely chopped dark chocolate into the pastry cream with the vanilla in Step 3.
  • Coffee pastry cream: Add ½ ounce coffee extract to the pastry cream with the vanilla in Step 3.
  • Coconut pastry cream: Substitute 8 ounces (1 cup) of the whole milk with an equal amount of unsweetened canned coconut milk.
  • Mousseline pastry cream: Whip 6 ounces of heavy whipping cream to stiff peaks and fold into the chilled pastry cream. This will lighten the pastry cream and make a great filling for eclairs or cream puffs.
A Danish layer cake with a layer of pastry cream on it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is pastry cream made of?

Pastry cream is made of milk, egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla.

Is pastry cream the same as custard?

Pastry cream is a type of custard, while custard is simply a liquid (often milk) thickened with eggs.

What is pastry cream used for?

Pastry cream is an important component in many desserts including cakes (layer cakes specifically), pies, tarts, and pastries such as donuts and eclairs.

Put your pastry cream to work

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A clear bowl filled with pastry cream.

How to Make Pastry Cream

Learn how to make pastry cream, a classic French stirred custard (crème pâtissière) used it to fill cakes, pastries, tarts, and pies. It's delicious plain or try one of my flavor suggestions.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Chilling time 2 hours
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings (½ cup each)
Course Dessert
Cuisine French
Calories 386
5 from 3 votes

Ingredients 

For the pastry cream:

Instructions 

To make the pastry cream:

  • In a medium non-aluminum saucepan over medium heat, warm milk until tiny bubbles appear on the surface, about 6 to 8 minutes (about 180 degrees Farenheit). Stir to prevent the milk from scalding.
  • Meanwhile, In a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in cornstarch and salt. While whisking constantly, pour in half of the hot milk. Whisk in remaining hot milk and return to saucepan.
  • Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens to a firm consistency, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in vanilla. Remove from heat. Scrape in to a bowl. Cool 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or refrigerate (cover with plastic wrap, pressing plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream).

Notes

  1. Vanilla: ½ vanilla bean, split, may be substituted for the vanilla extract.
  2. Yield: This recipe makes just over 2 ¼ cups pastry cream, enough for one Fresh Fruit Tart or one Danish Layer Cake.
  3. Storage: The pastry cream can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed directly on its surface.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.5 cupCalories: 386kcalCarbohydrates: 64gProtein: 8gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 306mgSodium: 206mgPotassium: 215mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 56gVitamin A: 587IUCalcium: 186mgIron: 1mg
Did you make this recipe?Tag @culinaryhill on Instagram so we can admire your masterpiece! #culinaryhill
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Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.

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Comments

  1. Ultimately a very tasty cream, and even a novice like myself was able to pull it off without too much difficulty. There was a dicey moment where the milk/egg/sugar mix started to get chunky, but I was able to respond quickly enough to keep it from totally overcooking. I will be making this again and using it for all kinds of things.5 stars

  2. I don’t care for cornstarch. How much Wondra flour per 6 eggyokes should I use to thicken it.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Dusica, I haven’t tested substituting Wondra for cornstarch in this recipe, sorry! Looking into it though, it seems you would us half as much when a recipe calls for cornstarch, so for 6 egg yolks you would use 2 tablespoons Wondra. If you do try this, please stop back on by and let me know how it turns out! I hope it works and doesn’t ruin your day. – Meggan

  3. I was looking for a thorough recipe on how to make pastry cream and I found it. So yummy I could eat it with my finger.5 stars

  4. I’m going to make a pastry cream pie and use the leftover egg whites to make meringue on top of it!