Pastry Cream · GF (about six cups)
If you’ve ever stood in an overstuffed closet, rummaging through everything you own only to conclude “I have nothing to wear,” you have a pretty good idea of what coming up with a new dessert can feel like.
The problem doesn’t have anything to do with a lack of options, but in finding a way to combine familiar pieces into something that won’t bore you to death. Knowing the season helps narrow things down, but you still have to assemble the “outfit” one element at a time.
To that end, pastry cream is the chunky cable knit sweater of desserts.
All by itself it’s kinda boring, but layered with other elements it becomes the foundation for countless
outfits desserts. Unlike that sweater, you can “dye” pastry cream any flavor to match the season or your mood, but vanilla bean never goes out of style.
On the front end, try steeping the milk with coffee beans, tea leaves, stone fruit pits, roasted nuts, herbs or whole spices in addition to vanilla bean pods. Bring the milk to a simmer with your flavoring agent, then shut off the heat and let ‘em hang out til you’re happy with the flavor.
Tea leaves and herbs can get bitter with oversteeping, sometimes in as little as five minutes, so taste frequently. Coffee, nuts and bananas get exponentially more awesome the longer the steep, so let ‘em go for a few hours or even overnight in the fridge. Once the time’s up, warm the milk and strain out whatever you added (giving it a good squeeze to extract all the flavor).
You can also flavor pastry cream by whipping the finished product with peanut butter, nutella, caramel, melted chocolate, ground spices, extracts and liquors to taste. Just don’t overdo it on the liquid elements, lest you give the pastry cream a soupy texture.
Raid your recipe box (or mine) for other elements and build a full fledged dessert around humble pastry cream. Serve it under fresh or roasted fruit, with a crispy cookie on the side. Pipe it into cream puffs or beignets. Layer with ‘nilla wafers and bananas for puddin'’. Beat in equal parts soft butter to make German buttercream, lighten it with chantilly to make mousse-like diplomat cream, or cut it with meringue and bake as a soufflé.
Pastry Cream, 6 cups
32 ounces whole milk (use coconut milk for a non-dairy version)
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
10 ounces sugar
3 ounces cornstarch
1/4 tsp kosher salt
Bring the milk, along with the vanilla bean (and/or other flavoring agents), to a boil in a large pot. Turn off heat and set aside to steep for at least one hour, or as long as overnight in the fridge, just take care if steeping an ingredient that gets bitter over time, like tea.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and yolks together with the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean seeds. Whisk vigorously to break up any lumps.
Meanwhile, bring the milk back to a simmer. Remove the vanilla bean, using a spatula to scrape out the milky-vanilla goo inside each pod half before discarding the bean. If using other flavoring agents, strain them through a sieve and re-weigh the milk to make sure you haven’t lost too much in the process. Coffee beans and nuts, for example, can absorb a lot of milk. If needed, add more milk to bring it back to 32 ounces.
Next, whisk a little hot milk into the eggs; it will be thick at first but will loosen up as the milk incorporates. Temper in more hot milk to warm the eggs.
At this stage, add the tempered egg/milk mixture back into the hot milk on the stove, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk over medium heat until the mixture becomes quite thick. Once the mixture starts to bubble (sluggishly, as it’s so thick), carry on for a full minute to thoroughly cook the starchiness out of the cornstarch.
Now, do one of two things: A) Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and let it go at the lowest speed until the pastry cream has cooled. B) Pour the pastry cream into a container, press plastic wrap against the surface to prevent it from skinning, then cool in an ice bath or the fridge until cold.
Before using, use a hand or stand mixer to beat the cold pastry cream for two or three minutes to restore its creamy texture.
In addition to all the ideas mentioned above, here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Slice 8 ripe bananas and add them in with the milk and vanilla bean at the beginning. After simmering the milk, cool it to room temperature then refrigerate overnight for the best flavor. After steeping, return the mixture to a simmer and pour through a sieve. Press firmly on the bananas with a rubber spatula to release as much liquid as possible, but not so hard that you force any banana pulp through the sieve. Discard the banana pulp (or save for smoothies or muffins) and proceed with the recipe as directed.
St-Germain (as seen here)
Make the recipe just as written above but decrease the milk by 8 ounces. After the custard has finished cooking and is removed from the heat, whisk in 6 ounces of St-Germain. Cool the custard as described above. You can use this method with other liquors, but based on their flavor and intensity, you may need less. St-Germain has a delicate flavor and it takes a lot to flavor the pastry cream; bourbon, for example, will get the job done with much less.
Steep 6 ounces of dark roasted coffee beans with the milk for at least four hours, or so long as overnight.
This version has enough extra steps to warrant its own recipe, rather than trying to cram a full explanation here. Check out the details (and photo) here.
Jul 08, 2012 · 2:43 PM
@Susan, Sounds like the great basis for some cream puffs or fruit tarts. You shouldn’t have any problems so long as you don’t add too much. I’d say no more than 7 or 8 ounces, max.
Jul 22, 2012 · 3:01 PM
@O, I’d give it four or five days for sure, maybe less if you do fruit flavors or something with a delicate flavor that can degrade over time. It will stiffen considerably in the fridge, so be sure to beat it until it’s creamy before using.
Nov 05, 2012 · 1:26 PM
Never thought about using coconut milk…will have to try that, ASAP!
· Cowen Park Kitchen · cowenparkkitchen.blogspot.com
Nov 05, 2012 · 10:35 PM
Pastry cream itself is not my favorite pastry element, but it is so versatile that I use it often at home with several additions to make it come alive. I love folding vanilla pastry cream with fresh whipped cream for a light filling, or eating it mixed with berries inside cakes. Some of your variations are so interesting and delightful. Thank you for sharing!
· Rachel · lifeinbatches.com
Nov 05, 2012 · 10:54 PM
I never realized how close it was to making a base for ice cream. So cool!
· Aly · fudgingahead.wordpress.com
Nov 06, 2012 · 8:28 AM
I made this a few times, but didn’t realize how versatile it could be. Am trying it again soon
· Radhika · sinsationscakes.wordpress.com
Nov 06, 2012 · 8:53 AM
@breadoflife, no real difference except in the time it takes. Stirring to cool is faster, but chilling in the fridge is hand’s off. They’ll both wind up with the same texture.
@CPK, the coconut milk version is great! Subtle coconut flavor, great with a splash of rum.
@Rachel, I know what you mean. I’ve never said, “oh, boy! pastry cream!” But once you’ve tinkered with the flavor (and texture) it always winds up as surprisingly delightful.
@Aly, very similar method, except that in this case you definitely want it to bubble! Ice cream wouldn’t appreciate that step.
@Ashley, about a week, if covered tightly.
@Radhika, have fun experimenting!
Nov 06, 2012 · 9:17 AM
this is the type of pastry cream recipe i’ve been wanting to find for a loong time now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
i love how it is thick enough to pipe, and not wobbly other pastry cream recipes i have used.
thanks, stella!! this post was awesome as usual
· megan · whyisfoodsogood.blogspot.com
Nov 06, 2012 · 5:39 PM
I laughed so hard when I read , “pastry cream is the chunky cable knit sweater of desserts.”
I have always believed that If there were a LBD (little black dress) of the food world, party sandwiches would be it.
Much like that little black dress, equally at home at funerals or wedding showers, party sandwiches never seem out of place. They are just as appropriate in 2012 as they were in 1975. Like the LBD, they never go out of style.
I love the idea of coconut milk in pastry cream. My mind is whirling from all the possibilities you presented.
· saltandserenity · www.saltandserenity
Nov 07, 2012 · 9:17 AM
@megan, oh yeah. It’s super thick. For tarts and things, I definitely prefer it lightened with whipped cream first, to counteract all that density. But once you re-whip it after chilling, it’s nice and creamy despite its thickness.
@saltandserenity, haha, I always said brownies were the LBD of desserts. Bake ‘em in a regular pan and cut them into squares for a casual dessert, bake ‘em in a tart pan or mini tart pans and drizzle with ganache for something dinner party worthy. Together, with party sandwiches, they will rule all occasions!
Nov 08, 2012 · 9:29 AM
Hi Debi! You can use flour to thicken pastry cream. It requires a lot more to get the job done (which is why I don’t use it), but for a friend in need, it would work out nicely. Since I haven’t tried it myself with this particular formulation, I’m going to point you to a recipe from my friend Emma at the Kitchn rather than try to convert this one to flour for you. Good luck!
Nov 09, 2012 · 10:48 PM
I make this at work all the time, but for some reason its never entered my “at home” repertoire. It sounds like I should! When you sub coconut milk, I’m guessing you use canned? (rather than the cartons I’ve seen a few places)
· Kate · www.katesshortandsweets.com
Nov 10, 2012 · 9:56 AM
Hi Kate! I do used canned. I haven’t run across the cartons though, I’ll have to keep an eye out so I can see if those are good too. In any case, just make sure to look for coconut milks that don’t contain any added sugar, which would screw up the recipe.
Nov 13, 2012 · 1:44 AM
how do you get your pastry cream soo white? are your egg yolks white or something, lol? i have hens in the backyard…their egg yolks are almost orange…so pastry cream always comes out deep yellow and bright. are the store bought egg yolks lighter in color? i haven’t bought eggs in years.
Nov 13, 2012 · 8:54 AM
@Drea, thanks for the tip! I haven’t tried that, but will have to check it out!
@ando1135, store bought eggs are definitely lighter in color, but I’m actually using farm eggs too. Seven yolks, even dark ones, spread over two quarts of dairy turns out… well, like the picture. When you make pastry cream, are you using this recipe or a different one? It could be that you do have especially intense yolks, or it could just be you’re using a recipe that has a lower egg:dairy ratio which causes the color to be stronger too. Hmmmm…
Nov 14, 2012 · 6:09 AM
I was planning to make your chocolate ice cream, the one with ganache, and came to write down the recipe, but it seems to have disappeared! Can you help?
· Marcy · prochaskas.wordpress.com
Nov 14, 2012 · 6:21 PM
Hi Marcy! Oh, I was doing some web maintenance and took it down, I will email you a copy.
Nov 15, 2012 · 7:22 AM
Thank you! Did I mention I am hoping to make it today for a party Saturday?! If you sent the recipe to my other email, I did not receive it, so I am giving you a different email to try.
I made the strawberry (same party) yesterday — judging from the scrapings of the can, it’s going to be fantastic.
· Marcy · prochaskas.wordpress.com
Nov 16, 2012 · 9:32 PM
I still hope to get your recipe at some point — but for this weekend I cobbled together a recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s Ganache ice cream and David Lebowitz’s Bittersweet. I love how smooth and mousse-like it is!
· Marcy · prochaskas.wordpress.com
Nov 17, 2012 · 7:50 PM
@Marisa, you know, I’ve never tried it, but I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work. It may not have quite the same luxurious body, but would still be pretty nice, I bet!
@Marcy, oooh, I’ll have to check it out. Haven’t seen it before.
Nov 20, 2012 · 4:46 PM
Hi Kelsey! I don’t think that would be a problem at all. Happy baking!
Nov 20, 2012 · 5:40 PM
Hi Kelsey. It could be a few things… One, if you’re using a pot that has thin metal, it may just be conducting heat too fast, so I always like to use a heavy bottomed pot. Second, it could just be the heat’s on too high. Last: do you use a whisk to stir the whole time? Because of the thickness of the custard, just stirring isn’t enough, it needs to be whisked. I have read that lactose free milk is more prone to curdling, so you may just need to cool longer over a lower temperature to help it along. Alternately, you could use coconut milk, which makes a fabulous pastry cream and is (of course) lactose free.
Nov 21, 2012 · 9:12 AM
Hi Kelsey. I don’t know the answer to that question, actually! I do all of my baking by weight exclusively and there is no universal conversion to cups. People always say “1 cup is eight ounces” but that is not true. Different ingredients have different densities, and so a cup of flour weighs about half as much as a cup of sugar, and so on. If you’d like to read a bit more of a detailed explanation, check out this post about Why Weight. You can pick up a kitchen scale for as little as $25 at a Target or Bed Bath & Beyond, and it will be a lifelong companion in the kitchen.
Nov 29, 2012 · 9:17 AM
Hi luv2cook! It’s really a matter of taste, how light you want to make it and how much you are willing to dilute the flavor (if using some flavor other than vanilla or something you can adjust with extract). But for a half batch of pastry cream (5 cups) I fold in 12 ounces of cream, whipped with 4 ounces of sugar and a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla or whatever extract you like. Hope that helps!
Dec 11, 2012 · 6:36 PM
Hi Gohar! I like using the egg + yolk combo because of the extra richness, but for such a teeny tiny batch, I’d be hard to replicate that same balance. I’d just use one whole egg and call it a day.
Dec 30, 2012 · 7:08 PM
Hi Aeriae! Yup! It’ll get very thick after it cools, but while it’s warm (or room temperature) it’ll be super soft and creamy.
Feb 01, 2013 · 6:20 PM
Question: Why doesn’t your pastry cream have butter in it? I made it today and it is fabulous, I love the creaminess of it. In all the kitchens I have worked, I have never had a recipe that didn’t include butter. Did you omit it? Don’t think it necessary? Just wondering Thanks Stella!!
Feb 02, 2013 · 11:48 AM
Hi Joan! I’m glad you liked it. For me, the butter was always overkill, pastry cream’s plenty rich on its own. The butter also makes it stiffer when cold, which is never a good thing. Since it wasn’t adding any qualities I liked, I ditched it!
Feb 06, 2013 · 11:46 PM
So, I feel like these are silly questions, but I must ask. I want to make the banana infused cream for a banoffee-inspired pie. Do you recommend a specific mix-in for a creamy pie filling? (I would prefer something a teensy bit more stable than whipped cream but I’m flexible.)
Last question: to fill two pies, ya think I need a full batch of pastry cream?
· emily | nomnivorous · www.nomnivorous.com
Feb 07, 2013 · 9:23 AM
@pc501, thanks for stopping by! You’ll have to let me know if you ever give my carrot cake a shot!
@emily, believe it or not, folding whipped cream in actually gives a pretty stable filling, so long as you keep the ratio of pastry cream to chantilly low. I’ve never used it in a pie, so I don’t know how precisely “sliceable” it is, but it’s still pretty thick. Not sure how deep your pie pans are, but I would definitely err on the side of caution and make a full batch for two pies.
If you have any extra, just whip it with butter (to make a German buttercream) and then you can freeze it. Always good in an emergency. If you’ve seen my banana ice cream post, that’s a good technique for infusing banana flavor in pretty much anything. I’ve made banana pastry cream a million times before… Just stir it frequently, for some reason it is especially prone to scorching on the bottom.
Feb 07, 2013 · 11:12 AM
Thanks! I used your banana infusing technique on a test batch of pastry cream, but I did not use your pastry cream recipe for some reason. Silly me, as my test batch came out way too thick. But I trust your recipe. Thanks for responding! <3
· emily | nomnivorous · www.nomnivorous.com
Feb 08, 2013 · 7:06 AM
Hi Emily! Hope it turns out with the texture you’re aiming for. For a batch this size, I usually cut it with chantilly made in this amount: 4 oz sugar, 12 oz cream, pinch salt.
Feb 08, 2013 · 5:14 PM
I have a question about this pastry cream vs your German buttercream recipe. I noticed that the German buttercream recipe is basically half of this recipe with the exception of the sugar (10 oz in both recipes). I wanted to make the pastry cream & then use half the recipe for German butter cream. Do you recommend using this recipe or doubling the German Buttercream recipe and using 20 oz sugar? Thank you for sharing your expertise!
Feb 08, 2013 · 7:44 PM
Hi Shauna! Yeah, the buttercream has relatively more sugar because it has to be sweet enough to still be sweet even after all that butter is mixed in. Really, you can go either way.
If you doubled the pastry cream from the German buttercream recipe, the part that you use as a straight pastry cream may seem a little sweet. You could easily temper that with a pinch of salt, or some unsweetened cream, whipped. Or you could make a double batch of plain pastry cream and use the leftovers for buttercream, just bearing in mind it’ll need a shot of caramel or corn syrup or something sweet.
Hope that makes sense, let me know if I can explain anything better!
Feb 12, 2013 · 7:13 PM
Hi Mei! Actually, it wouldn’t be a big deal if you cracked one egg, whisked it really, really well, then poured it in half. But if not, just round the whole egg content up to six (omitting the yolk) and use 3 eggs per batch. Should turn out just fine.
Feb 16, 2013 · 11:05 PM
Hi Olivia! Really, it depends on the exact size you pipe the cream puffs, and how much filling you like inside each. I would probably budget closer to 1.5 cups, that way each puff would get at least an ounce of filling. If you made very small ones, you could get away with one cup, though. Hope that helps!
Feb 24, 2013 · 1:10 AM
Hi Mona! Coconut pastry cream is the business. You can totally use an extract, and/or you can replace the milk and cream with unsweetened coconut milk (my favorite). Just be careful with the extract, it can go from coconutty to suntan lotiony pretty quick.
Feb 27, 2013 · 4:00 PM
Hi Stella, Question first: I am thinking of infusing fresh basil into the cream for a fresh fruit tart. Can you suggest how much basil to use, and how long to steep it? Also, any suggestions on fruit pairings?
thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge in a way that ordinary folks like me can imitate and learn. I discovered your site via the Gilt article + recipe on Red Wine Velvet Cake. The cake turned out so well that it’s become my husband’s favorite, something that he has me showcase to his colleagues. The history is a great bonus. We now serve the cake paired with the wine that’s in it, usually a rich Valipoliceli. Your explanations of techniques really help, an make me want to try more recipes. Thanks again and warmest congrats on the best pastry chef award!!
Feb 27, 2013 · 7:49 PM
I made these tarts for my daughters Tea Party themed Baby Shower…. they were incredible! I made the vanilla pastry cream (with sliced kiwi, or assorted berries on top) AND the coffee flavored pastry cream (but added a little cocoa in with the coffee flavored pastry cream and a little cocoa in the tart shells… with shaved chocolate on top). It was a big hit! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe! I will be making them every chance I get!
Feb 27, 2013 · 11:04 PM
Hi Ballardelle! Basil pastry cream sounds fab! I make it at work actually; what I do is process 3 ounces of fresh basil leaves with the sugar in a food processor, then make the recipe as normal. No need to steep, the flavor will be extracted quite intensely as-is and the leaf pieces will be strained out at the end.
Basil and strawberry would be the classic pairing, but melons work really nicely too, especially an assortment in different colors and sizes (scooped in different sizes, I mean).
So, so happy to hear the red velvet was a hit! Thanks for stopping by.
Hi Kathryn! OMG, thanks so much for sharing a picture! They look fabulous. I love that you made the coffee variation, that’s awesome.
Mar 27, 2013 · 12:53 PM
So when you say “32 ounces of whole milk”, are you weighing the milk on the scale (2lbs)? Thanks.
· acakestory · www.acakestory.co
Apr 17, 2013 · 9:14 PM
Hi Katie! I’m afraid I’ve never had a custard square before, but the pastry cream does set up nice and thick, so it would definitely be sliceable after refrigeration. Hope that gives you a little more info to go on!
May 17, 2013 · 7:27 PM
HI Kemberly! I think this could definitely fit the bill. You could reduce the milk by a few ounces, then stir in your liquor of choice at the end. I like to lighten a batch of pastry cream with about 8 ounces of whipped cream, to make it nice and soft, when used as a filling for cakes. Otherwise it’s a little thick for my tastes, though you may not think so. Make it a bit in advance so you can judge the thickness of the cooled custard before using it, then adjust to suit. Good luck!
May 18, 2013 · 10:17 PM
Hi Kathryn! Aw, I wish I could be more help, but I’ve never tried freezing it before, so I don’t know. I know that cornstarch doesn’t always hold up well if frozen/thawed/used, so my hopes are pretty low.
May 23, 2013 · 11:32 PM
Hi there Stella! Made this once before for some mini fresh fruits tarts and it was great Trying my hand at making some swan cream puff today for a friend and I thought this would ensure the neck to be a bit more stable, but I find that the pastry cream didn’t set well. Liquidy and hard to manage even straight out of the fridge and whipped about 1-2 minutes. Since I had success the first time round, what do you think could be the problem? Bigger eggs maybe? Taste good but the texture is oh so different!
TQ in advance!