Vanilla Pastry Cream (Creme Patissiere)

This vanilla pastry cream recipe is a foolproof way to add a touch of elegance to your baked goods. Easy, creamy, and utterly delicious – let’s get whisking!

Vanilla pastry cream

Recipe At a Glance

This vanilla pastry cream is as simple as it gets.

First, we bring milk flavored with vanilla extract to a boil and use it to temper our yolk-cornstarch-and-sugar mixture. Then, we return everything to a pot and cook until the cornstarch thickens. Finally, we whisk in some butter and allow the mixture to cool.

When you need to use it, simply take it out of the fridge, give it a good whisk, and it’s ready for piping.

If you’re making this vanilla pastry cream for the first time, read the ingredients notes, step-by-step instructions, and tips. If you have any experience with pastry creams, feel free to jump to the recipe card.

Ingredients Notes and Substitutes

Vanilla pastry cream ingredients
  • Milk: Whole fat works best, but skim should be okay too. Milk alternatives also work well, though the final flavor will be slightly different. When using a vegan milk alternative, check whether it’s the regular or sweet variety. If the latter, reduce the amount of sugar by half and add more after cooking the cream if needed.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch is ideal as it has a relatively high thickening temperature. You can also use potato starch (half the amount), but let the cooked milk mixture cool down a bit before adding it to the eggs, so the egg mixture doesn’t thicken too quickly. Check out my article on cornstarch versus potato starch for more details.
  • Sugar: Regular white sugar works well, but feel free to use any sweetener you like. Remember to adjust the amount when using alternatives like xylitol or stevia.
  • Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract is what gives this pastry cream its flavor. I typically use the extract because it simplifies the workflow compared to using vanilla beans (which many other recipes recommend). I cover using vanilla beans later in the article.
  • Unsalted Butter: Plain unsalted butter is all you need.
  • Egg Yolks: Along cornstarch, egg yolks help thicken the cream.

How to Make Vanilla Pastry Cream

  1. Boil Milk: Measure the milk into a pot and stir in the vanilla extract and half the sugar. Bring the mixture close to a boil.
  2. Prep Yolks: While the milk is heating, whisk the yolks in a large bowl, then stir in the cornstarch and the remaining sugar. Set aside.
  3. Temper Eggs: When the milk is close to boiling, remove it from the heat. Gradually pour a couple of tablespoons of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, constantly whisking to prevent the yolks from curdling. Repeat this process 3 to 4 times until you’ve incorporated all the milk. Keep stirring throughout.
  1. Cook Until Thick and Bubbly: Return the combined mixture to the pot you used for the milk. Cook it over low or medium heat, stirring constantly, until it noticeably thickens and starts to bubble. This typically takes 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the pot and heat intensity. Avoid rushing the process to prevent the yolks from curdling.
  1. Take Off the Heat and Whisk: Once the mixture is thick, remove the pot from the heat and continue whisking for about a minute, bringing the mixture past the point of maximum thickness.
  2. Stir in Butter: Add the butter to the pot and stir until it melts and integrates into the cream.
  1. Taste Test: Sample the cream (be cautious, it’s hot) and add more sugar or vanilla extract if necessary.
  2. Cover and Chill: Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming. Leave it at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to cool slightly. Then refrigerate (covered) until you’re ready to use it.
  1. Whisk and Use: When removed from the fridge, the pastry cream will have a stiff, pudding-like texture. This is normal, so don’t freak out. To use it, start by “chopping” it up with a fork, then switch to a whisk and stir for a minute or two until it becomes smooth (ish). Once done, it’s ready for piping.

Alternative Method

The method I cover above is the standard method for making pastry creams, and you can follow it to make pretty much any pastry cream you like. But in many cases, including this one, you can simplify the setup.

Instead of tempering the eggs, set aside 1/3 cup of milk and cornstarch. Add everything else (except butter) to the pot, stir together, and bring it to a boil, whisking often. When it’s close to boiling, make a cornstarch slurry, add it to the mixture on the stove, and stir until it thickens and starts to bubble. Then remove it from the heat and continue as per the recipe.

That’s the same setup I go with when I make Polish vanilla pudding or Polish chocolate pudding.

This setup work for this recipe, because there’s no infusion needed. If you go with vanilla beans instead (covered below), this setup doesn’t make much sense. That’s because you need to infuse the milk first anyway, so you might as well temper the eggs with the hot milk.

Tips

  • Chill on a Plate. To speed up chilling the pudding, pour it onto a large plate or bowl. Or a couple of them. A larger surface area helps it cool down much faster.
  • Make It in Advance. This pastry cream keeps for 3 to 4 days in the fridge, so you can easily prepare it the day before you need it. I usually make all the pastry creams I need a day earlier, and assemble whatever dessert I’m making the day I’m serving it.
Creamy vanilla pastry cream
  • Keep Whisking. There’s quite a lot of whisking involved in this recipe, and it’s not something you you can skip. If you do, you’ll end up with curdled yolks, and that’s not something people appreciate in a pastry cream. Treat it as your arm workout for the day.
  • Use Vanilla Beans. If opting for vanilla beans over vanilla extract, you’ll need to infuse the milk. For starters, grab one to two beans for every 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, depending on how strong you like it. The setup is simple: you split the vanilla bean(s), scrape the seeds, and combine milk, split beans, and seeds in a pot. You then bring it to a simmer over medium heat, take it off the heat, cover, and steep for half an hour to give time for the infusion. After that, remove the beans, strain the milk to get rid of the seeds, and continue with the rest of the recipe.

Usage

Here are some ways to use this vanilla pastry cream:

  • Layered Desserts: Use it as a layer in parfaits or trifle. Layer it with fruits, cake pieces, or crushed cookies for a delightful dessert.
  • Stuffed Pastries: Pipe it into croissants, Danish pastries, or sweet rolls before baking for a vanilla surprise. Or bake some eclairs or cream puffs and fill them with the pastry cream.
Vanilla pastry cream for filling
Vanilla pastry cream for filling
  • Cake Filling and Frosting: Use it as a filling for sponge cakes, cupcakes, or layer cakes. It can also be used as a frosting for cupcakes or a naked cake.
  • French Macarons: Use it as a filling for macarons for a sophisticated and flavorful treat.
  • Tart Filling: Fill pre-baked tart shells with vanilla pastry cream and top with fresh fruits or a glaze for an elegant dessert.

That said, note that this pastry cream isn’t particularly firm after piping. It pipes nicely when used as a topping, but it’s not strong enough to support heavy decorations. It will stand tall if you put the top you cut off your cream puff before filling it, but will likely collapse or get squashed if you add a nice and large chocolate ganache rosette on top.

For a sturdier version, turn it into creme mousseline by whipping the pastry cream with whipped butter.

Vanilla cream piped decoratively
Vanilla cream piped decoratively

Storage

Once prepared, you can store this pastry cream for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. Make sure the container is sealed tightly so that it doesn’t absorb any smells.

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Here’s how to make the most basic pastry cream: vanilla pastry cream (creme patissiere).
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Vanilla pastry cream
Cook Time:20 minutes
Total Time:20 minutes

Equipment

  • whisk

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk ~480g
  • 4 egg yolks medium or large (about 60-70g)
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch ~40g
  • 7 tablespoons sugar ~87g
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter ~28g

Instructions

  • Boil Milk: In a pot, mix milk with vanilla extract and half the sugar, and heat until almost boiling.
  • Prep Yolks: Whisk yolks in a bowl, then mix in cornstarch and the remaining sugar.
  • Temper Eggs: Gradually add a few tablespoons of hot milk to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to avoid curdling. Repeat until all milk is incorporated.
  • Thicken Cream: Return mixture to the pot and cook on low/medium heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and bubbles (2-4 minutes).
  • Off Heat Whisking: Once thick, remove from heat and whisk for another minute.
  • Add Butter: Stir butter into the mixture until melted and integrated.
  • Taste and Adjust: Taste the cream and add more sugar or vanilla if needed.
  • Chill: Cover with plastic wrap touching the cream's surface to avoid crust formation. Cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate.
  • Final Whisk: Before use, "chop" the chilled cream with a fork, then whisk until smooth. It's now ready for piping.

Notes

This recipe uses less sugar than most other recipes out there. Make sure to taste the pastry cream and adjust the sugar if needed. It should be sweet, but not so that the vanilla flavor is barely noticeable.
Servings: 2.25 cups
Author: Marcin Skrzypiec

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