Vanilla Pastry Cream

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Pastry cream is one of the most versatile recipes in a professional pastry kitchen (and your home). It is used for the filling of eclaires, napoleons, fruit tarts, banana cream pie, trifle, and just scooped out of the bowl with a spoon. It is essentially “kick-ass” vanilla pudding, to quote one of my former bosses. It can be scented with vanilla, in fact I always start there and then add flavors to it. I’ve made everything from Thai chili-chocolate to passion fruit pastry cream. Here is the basic vanilla pastry cream recipe to start with!

This is an old post with old photos (I’ve come a long way with my camera since then)…

Pastry Cream :

2 cups milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Pinch salt

1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 egg

3 egg yolks

For the pastry cream:

Bring the milk, 1/4 cup of the sugar, butter, salt and vanilla bean to a gentle boil in a medium saucepan.

Boiling Ingredients for Vanilla Pastry Cream | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Remove from heat.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Add the egg and yolks to the cornstarch and mix into a smooth paste.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Slowly, and in small amounts, whisk a little of the hot milk into a the egg mixture. This is called tempering the eggs, which you need to do to get them to the same temperature of the hot milk in the pan, so they won’t curdle.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Once the egg mixture is warm to the touch, pour it back into the milk in the pan.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Return the custard to the stove and bring to a boil, whisking continuously for 2 to 3 minutes. The pastry cream will thicken almost immediately but it is important to cook out the starch so that it isn’t grainy and so your pastry cream won’t separate. (separating pastry cream is when the liquid releases from the cream, easily prevented by cooking for 2-3 minutes!) When the pastry cream is done it will be smooth and glossy.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Strain the pastry cream into a shallow container.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Because the pastry cream is so think you will need to press it through the strainer with a rubber spatula.

Vanilla Pastry Cream Recipe | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Set the container in the freezer for 15 minutes (this cools down the eggs quickly) and then refrigerate for up to a few days.

Vanilla Pastry Cream | ZoëBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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26 thoughts to “Vanilla Pastry Cream”

  1. I didn’t expect to create such a stir (no pun intended). The link is to my attempt at eclairs with a different cream recipe. Now to get the piped choux to come out in even shapes after being baked.

  2. Hello,
    How do you incorporate fruit in this without watering it down? I plan on adding (seperately) blackberries, strawberries and raspberries and piping into cream horns. Any help would greatly be appreciated! Thanks 🙂

  3. Hi Michelle,

    The trick to adding fruit to the pastry cream is to either use fresh berries and handle them gently or use frozen and remove as much liquid as possible. If you are going for the fresh berries then keep in mind that you will have a difficult time getting the berries to come through your piping bag unless you have a very large tip.

    Frozen berries work really well but you want to set them in a strainer for at least a couple of hours to allow any of the juice to drain away. The frozen berries will turn the pastry cream pink, which can be pretty.

    Whisk the pastry cream so that it is nice an fluffy before adding the fruit. Fold the berries in as gently as possible.

    Enjoy, it sounds wonderful!


  4. Hi Zoë,

    Thank you very much for your help and prompt response!! Great website and I’ll let you know how I do! 🙂


  5. Hi Zoe,
    you mentioned passion fruit pastry cream. Can you tell me how to incorporate passion fruit into this recipe? I’m making a Tres Leches layer cake and wanted to do a passion fruit pastry cream (with whipped cream folded in to make it lighter)for the layers. I also found another site that recommended just using passion fruit curd with whipped cream folded in instead of making pastry cream. Any thoughts? Many thanks!

  6. Hi Shea,

    Sounds like a fantastic idea. I used the pulp of about 2 or 3 passion fruits and folded that into the whipped cream and then into the pastry cream. You can also use passion fruit puree and do the same thing. Just don’t use so much that it will make your pastry cream too loose. My recipe for pastry cream is pretty stiff once it is chilled so it lends itself well to adding things to it. Be sure to stir it until it is smooth before trying to fold the whipped cream in.

    Let me know how it comes out. Thanks, Zoë

  7. Hi Ashley,

    You want a rather stiff pastry cream to make Napoleans so I would just melt about 4-6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate over a double boiler. While it is melting make the pastry cream and add them together before straining and cooling. it will make the pastry cream much more still, but this is actually ok for what you are using it for, it will be easier to cut without it falling apart!

    Enjoy, Zoë

  8. Hey Zoe! I’m having a hard time finding fresh passion fruit or puree for my pastry cream. I did find passion fruit juice. How and when would I incorporate the juice?

  9. Hi Zoë – First attempt at Pistachio Pastry cream failed miserably. Trying it again using your recipe. We’ll see how it turns out this time. You’ve always come through for me before, I’m hoping your base recipe will work this time as well. Wish me luck.

    1. Hey Bret,

      pistachios are very fatty and will make your pastry cream break down if you use the whole nut. Did you try steeping them in the milk and then strain them through a chinois? This will give you a subtler flavor, but perhaps it is enough to get the idea across?

      Thanks, Zoë

  10. Zoe – would pastry cream be a good filling for a cake? I was asked to do a cake with “custard” filling (but by someone who’s English – so not sure if we’re using custard exactly the same way). Could/should I lighten it with whipped cream? Thank you! The recipe sounds great and not too hard.

  11. Hi! Great site and recipes! one of the comments say is pretty stiff, does it stay that way at room temperature? Pastry Cream is used a lot here in the DR as cake filling, I want to use yours but need to know if it can stand a few hours of room temperature?
    Thanks in advance!


    1. Hi Sheyla,

      The pastry cream is pretty stiff and will hold up at temperatures in the 70s, but perhaps much warmer a room will make it soft. If you need it to be out in a warm environment, you may want to increase the cornstarch a little bit or stabilize it with some whipped cream, set with a touch of gelatin. Not too much or it will feel like jello.

      Thanks, Zoë

  12. hello zoe,
    i was thinking of making strawberry pastry cream. do i need to change the base recipe when adding some fruit puree into the pastry cream? because i am afraid that it will become too watery. .

    1. Hi Amanda,

      You may want to flavor it with a strawberry preserve, which has more body and the flavor is more concentrated. If you use a puree, it will indeed make the pastry cream too thin, and you will have to stabilize it with more egg and cornstarch. I think you will get better flavor with the preserves.

      Thanks, Zoë

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