Pastry cream is one of those fundamental recipes that everyone interested in cooking should learn to make. It is used in so many delicious desserts and really isn’t that difficult to make. This recipe is just the basic pastry cream recipe, but feel free to throw your own spin on it.
Add in some cocoa powder and melted chocolate for a chocolate filling for a cake. Or mix in a caramel sauce for a caramel cream filled eclair. Personally I love the plain vanilla cream for my eclairs, cream puffs, and fruit tarts but don’t be afraid to experiment a little! This recipe utilizes vanilla bean paste/vanilla extract for convenience but feel free to use whole vanilla beans if you have them on hand.
Important Steps for a Better Pastry Cream
There are four critical steps in this recipe to ensure a good quality pastry cream. The first two are during the cooking part of the recipe. When heating the milk on the stove it is important to bring the temperature up gently. If you put the milk on a high heat and let it boil your milk will curdle. Curdled milk equals start over, so let’s just do it right the first time!
The second important step during cooking is a process called tempering. In this case, we are tempering the eggs before adding it to the hot milk. If you were to add your eggs all at once into the pot of hot liquid you will get immediate scrambled eggs in your milk! Instead we bring up the temperature of the eggs by slowly adding just a cup of the hot liquid to the eggs while continuously whisking. After this step it is safe to add the tempered eggs into the rest of the hot milk!
The last two steps I want to mention may seem like minor details in the recipe but they are actually crucial to get a good texture for the pastry cream. Pouring the hot pastry cream through a strainer before cooling is to ensure that you don’t end up with any clumps or scrambled egg bits in your finished cream.
The final step actually has nothing to do with making the pastry cream. It is about how you store your finished product. When storing the cream you need to make sure that you cover it directly with plastic wrap. When I say directly I mean the plastic needs to be touching the surface of the cream. Otherwise a skin will form on the exposed surface of the cream.
How to Use Pastry Cream
Like I mentioned before, pastry cream can be used in all types of desserts. I frequently use it as a filling for my eclairs and cream puffs. All you need is a piping bag and a 1/4-inch round piping tip (or the closest small size you have).
Use the small pastry tip by itself to make holes in the bottom of the cream puff and eclairs. One hole for the cream puffs, two or three for the eclairs. Because of its shape, the eclair needs more holes for even filling. Now fit the piping bag with the tip, fill it with pastry cream, and get to work filling all those delicious cream puffs and eclairs.
- 2 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup white granulated sugar
- 1/8 tsp kosher salt
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 oz unsalted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- Combine 2 cups of milk with the sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat while stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.
- While the mixture comes to a simmer add the rest of the milk, egg yolks, cornstarch, and flour to a mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Once the milk mixture comes to a simmer, transfer about a cup of it into the egg yolk mixture while constantly whisking. This is to temper the egg mixture so it doesn't turn into a scramble when added to the hot milk.
- Now pour the tempered egg yolk mixture into the simmering milk. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble.
- Remove from the heat and pour the hot pastry cream mixture through a strainer into a bowl set in an ice bath. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to stir and help push the cream through the strainer. Next, stir in the butter and the vanilla extract.
- Top the pastry cream with plastic wrap. Make sure the plastic wrap touches the whole top surface of the pastry cream so it will not form a skin. Refrigerate a couple of hours to fully cool down before using in your desserts.