How to Make Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)

Crème Pâtissière also known as pastry cream, is much thicker and less delicate than it’s custard sister, the Crème Anglaise. This rich and creamy custard is best known for being the sweet filling inside eclairs, pâte à choux buns (cream puffs) as well as layered in tarts and cakes.   

Crème Pâtissière is French for “Pastry Cream”.

Traditionally Crème Pâtissière is made using vanilla infused milk, eggs, sugar and cornstarch. The milk and vanilla are heated until steaming and then they are carefully whisked with the eggs, sugar and cornstarch. The mixture then is returned to the saucepan over medium heat, where it is cooked until thick and glossy. 

pastry cream in saucepan with whisk, on wood table

Because Crème Pâtissière is the base for so many desserts it is a must for every pastry chef to master. It’s also a great starting point for beginner bakers as the cornstarch makes this custard very forgiving. This recipe as well as my recipes Crème Anglaise and Chocolate Mousse are all included in Module Three: Cream and Custard of the Kira Bakes Gluten Free Pastry School.  Learning how to make these custards will give you the base skills needed to master the gluten free cakes, cookies and desserts in upcoming Modules Four, Five and Six.

What is Crème Pâtissière?

Crème Pâtissière, also known as Pastry Cream, can be used as a filling for eclairs, pâte à choux buns, donuts and many other desserts and pastries. Crème Pâtissière comes together by pouring (tempering) hot milk over egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Then, while whisking constantly, bringing the mixture to a simmer (just bubbling, not boiling). Once it reaches the desired consistency is left to cool down.

This method can also be applied to make curd!  By substituting the milk for fruit puree or juice, you will have a lovely curd instead of a custard.

close up view of pastry cream in saucepan with whisk

What is the difference between Crème Patisserie and Crème Anglaise?

Crème Pâtissière (pastry cream) and Crème Anglaise (vanilla sauce) are both custards that contain milk, sugar and eggs. They differ in their consistency, cooking method and use.

Crème Anglaise

  • Crème Anglaise is a thin custard that is cooked low and slow and is used as a sauce or accompaniment for platted desserts. It is also the base for ice cream.

Crème Patisserie 

  • Crème Pâtissière is a thick custard that is cooked to boiling point because it contains cornstarch which protects the egg proteins from breaking and scrambling. It is primarily used as a filling for pastries or layers in tarts and cakes.

Why do you need cornstarch in Crème Pâtissière

Cornstarch not only helps create a thicker custard with a smooth texture, it also allows us to heat the custard above 78C (when eggs would start to scramble) because it protects the egg proteins. The starch granules swell at the same temperature that the egg proteins are beginning to coagulate. Allowing us to boil the Crème Pâtissière.

Can You Flavour Crème Pâtissière?

Traditionally Crème Pâtissière is flavoured with vanilla. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add your own flavours and create something new. You can add coffee (use whole roasted beans or instant granules), spices, chocolate or liquors to the milk mixture. The idea is to have the milk infusing with the added flavours while it’s heating. Then you simply strain the mixture before adding it t the egg mixture 

What can you do with Crème Pâtissière?

  1. Eclairs and Cream Puffs (pâte à choux). Fill pâte à choux with pastry cream is what dreams are made of!
  2. Create decadent parfaits by alternating layers of pastry cream and other fillings such as chocolate ganache, flavoured whipping cream, nuts, granola and crumbles.
  3. Make Diplomat Cream. Diplomat Crème is a Crème Patisserie that has been lightened with whipped cream. It comes together by folding 1/3 whipped cream with 2/3 crème patisserie. This is perfect for filling pâte à choux (cream puffs) or no-bake tarts.
  4. Classic Trifles aren’t the same without a few generous layers of pastry cream. Pour the crème patisserie between each lawyer of cake, fruit and whipped cream for a beautiful, decadent dessert.
  5. Danish pastries are calling to be filled with pastry cream. Top them off with berries, shaved chocolate or roasted nuts.

Tips for making perfect Crème Pâtissière

  1. Use a heavy bottomed saucepan. Using a heavy bottomed saucepan will ensure that the heat is distributed evenly. 
  2. Whisk constantly. Because the cornstarch needs to be cooked off at a high temperature, the custard needs to be whisked constantly to distribute the mixture while also minimizing any lumps of starch.
  3. Remember to Temper. Tempering the hot milk into the eggs and sugar is critical because if you haven’t guessed what I’m going to say by now, it will turn to sweet, scrambled eggs. If you want a visual of how to temper, watch this video by Taste of Home. 
  4. Use a strainer. When the pastry cream is fully cooked, strain it to remove any lumps or bits of cooked egg that would otherwise ruin your smooth custard.
  5. Prevent a skin from forming: To prevent a ‘skin’ from forming on the surface of the pastry cream as it cools, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream before refrigerating it. This helps create a barrier and keeps air out.
  6. Chill thoroughly: Allow the pastry cream to chill in the refrigerator for at least a few hours, or overnight if possible. This helps the cream set and develop its full flavor and thickened consistency.
  7. Whisk before using: When chilled the pastry cream will form small lumps that can easily be whisked away. Whisk until the consistency is creamy and smooth.

Crème Anglaise  Quick Facts:

Origin: France in the 17th and 18th centuries. Crème Pâtissière is French for “Pastry Creame”. 

Difficulty Level: Beginner, the cornstarch helps protect the egg proteins. Making it pretty hard to mess up.

Ingredients: Milk (sometimes cream as well), sugar, eggs and cornstarch.

Best used for: Filling for cakes, pies, tarts and other pastries. 

How to make Crème Pâtissière Like a Pastry Chef

close up view of pastry cream in saucepan with whisk on wood table

Lets get baking! (Step-by-Step Instructions)

Mis en Place

Going back to the Kira Bakes Gluten Free Pastry Principals, this is always our first step when baking as it not only helps ensure accuracy during the mixing process, but it also makes the whole baking process a lot more relaxing and enjoyable. It’s a win/win!

If I’ve said it 100 times, I’ll say it again. Measuring ingredients by weight not volume is the magic sauce to gluten free baking! I always do my best to provide the cup (volume) measurements where possible. If you are going to measure by volume, click this link for tips on the correct way to measure by volume.

Scale the following ingredients

Crème Pâtissière Ingredients:

500ml Whole Milk

100g or 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar

40g Cornstarch

120g or 6 Egg Yolks (large us eggs)

2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste

50g unsalted butter (room temperature)

Prepare the equipment

  • Small heavy-bottomed saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Metal Spoon
  • Medium mixing bowl, x2
  • Strainer (fine mesh sieve) 
  • Digital thermometer (optional) 

Method

Step 1

In a saucepan, heat ¾ of the milk and ¾ of the sugar and vanilla (if using). You can also add other flavourings at this point such as coffee, spices or liquors. 

Cook over medium heat until steam begins to form. Immediately place a lid on the pot and remove it from the heat to let infuse a few minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cornstarch, remaining milk, sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until there are no bits of cornstarch.

Step 2

Temper the mixture by pouring a third of the hot milk mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Whisking continually so not to overheat and cook the egg yolks.

Step 3

Pour the mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk and return it to the stove. Cook over medium heat, whisking continuously until the custard starts to bubble (boil). Continue to whisk at the boiling point (100C/210F) for a few minutes. This process will cook out the starch, ensuring there is no starchy flavour remaining. 

Step 4

Remove the crème pâtissière from the heat and add the butter and whisk until combined. Strain the pastry cream, cover with cling film and allow to cool.

Step 5

When you are ready to use the crème pâtissière, allow it to warm up slightly at room temperature and then whip it until its smooth, creamy and free of any lumps. 

Storing Crème Pâtissière

Keep crème pâtissière stored in an airtight container with a sheet of cling film resting against the custard (this prevents a skin from forming), then store in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.  

Crème Pâtissière Q&A

Question: Is Crème Pâtissière Gluten Free?

It is gluten free! Because Crème Pâtissière only incorporates milk, sugar, eggs and cornstarch, it is naturally gluten free and safe for anyone who is celiac or can’t tolerate gluten.

Question: My Crème Pâtissière looks lumpy after keeping it in the fridge?

This is normal. Just take a whisk and whip it by hand until it starts to look smooth and creamy again. 

Question: How can I make a coffee flavoured Crème Pâtissière?

EASY! At the very start, add freshly roasted coffee beans (about ¼ cup) or 2 tsp instant espresso powder to the milk mixture and heat as instructed. Just remember to strain and remove the coffee beans before you temper the coffee infuse milk into the egg mixture.

Print
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pastry cream in saucepan with whisk, on wood table

How to Make Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)


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Description

Crème Pâtissière also known as pastry cream, is much thicker and less delicate than it’s custard sister, the Crème Anglaise. This rich and creamy custard is best known for being the sweet filling inside eclairs, pate choux buns (cream puffs) as well as layered in tarts and cakes. 


Ingredients

Scale

500ml Whole Milk

100g or 1/2 cup Granulated Sugar

40g Cornstarch

120g or 6 Egg Yolks (large us eggs)

2 tsp Vanilla Bean Paste

50g unsalted butter (room temperature)


Instructions

Step 1

In a saucepan, heat ¾ of the milk and ¾ of the sugar and vanilla (if using). You can also add other flavourings at this point such as coffee, spices or liquors. 

Cook over medium heat until steam begins to form. Immediately place a lid on the pot and remove it from the heat to let infuse a few minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cornstarch, remaining milk, sugar with the egg yolks. Whisk until it looks pale, thick and there are no bits of cornstarch.

Step 2

Temper the mixture by pouring a third of the hot milk mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Whisking continually so not to overheat and cook the egg yolks.

Step 3

Pour the mixture back into saucepan with the remaining milk and return it to the stove. Cook over medium heat, whisking continuously until the custard starts to bubble (boil). Continue to whisk at the boiling point (100C/210F) for a few minutes. This process will cook out the starch, ensuring there is no starchy flavour remaining. 

Step 4

Remove the crème pâtissière from the heat and add the butter and whisk until combined. Strain the pastry cream, cover with cling film and allow to cool.

Step 5

When you are ready to use the crème pâtissière, allow it to warm up slightly at room temperature and then whip it until its smooth, creamy and free of any lumps. 

Storing Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream)

Keep crème pâtissière stored in an airtight container with a sheet of cling film resting against the custard (this prevents a skin from forming), then store in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.

Recipe questions? I’d love to help!

Connect with me @kirabakesglutenfree or info@kirabakesglutenfree.com

Gluten Free Pastry Chef Kira McMullan, eating slice of cake

Ready to try another Gluten Free Recipe? Why not bake my Gluten Free Homemade Caramel or Gluten Free Brownies.  

The next lesson is Module Four: Gluten Free Pastry. Modules launch the last Monday of each month. Make sure to sign up to my newsletter for reminders and other gluten free recipes and tips.



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