Pastry Cream or Crème Pâtissière is one of the most versatile recipes in pastry! This silky, delicious vanilla bean pastry cream will take all your desserts to the next level! I’ll teach you all the tricks to keep it lump free every time!
Pastry cream, you sly fox. So dull sounding, not much to look at either, but the base for SO MANY RECIPES!
Vanilla bean pastry cream is the filling for mille feuilles (bonus points if you make your own puff pastry!), banana cream pie (the delicious kind that isn’t made with pudding mix…not that I’m judging), Danish filling, pithiviers (mixed with almond cream), lightened with whipped cream for crème légère, filling for fruit tarts, filling eclairs or profiteroles, Boston cream pie, German buttercream, crème Chiboust, and on and on!
A pastry nerd moment, please! There are three categories of custards in pastry: stirred custard (anglaise), cooked custard (think crème brûlée), and starch-bound custards. Pastry cream is a classic example of a starch-bound custard.
All custards take advantage of the coagulating properties of eggs but in starch-bound custards the eggs are aided by a starch to further thicken. In this recipe I use cornstarch because it is readily available but pastry cream powder can also be used. I’ve found that pastry cream powder holds better over a longer period of time.
5 Tips for Smooth Pastry Cream
Along with burning or undercooking it, lumps are a common downfall. There are a few stages where you need to be on high-lump-alert!
- Dividing the sugar! In this recipe I split my sugar between the milk and eggs for a few reasons. One, the sugar keeps the milk from scorching and the more sugar, the less I have to pay attention to it. This frees me up to be doing something else in the kitchen – an industrious pastry chef doesn’t have time to stare at pots and wait for them to boil. Two, adding sugar to the eggs too early will denature the proteins in the yolks and create lumps. You basically have the same effect as cooking the eggs when they sit in salt or sugar. These lumps will never come out.
- When you temper your milk into the eggs: whisk your eggs with the cornstarch, then slowly, and in a controlled fashion, add the hot milk while whisking. This allows the eggs to come up to the temperature of the milk without cooking them. Look, ma! No lumps!
- While the pastry cream is cooking: Whisk constantly! Do not allow bits of pastry cream to coagulate and then burn.
- Overcooking: if you overcook your pastry cream or you cook it at too high of a heat, you will get lumps.
- Cool it quickly! I pour mine out on a plastic wrap lined baking sheet, spread it out, then cover it with plastic wrap so it doesn’t develop a skin. Poke some holes in the top plastic to let the steam escape and then pop it in the refrigerator!
Now that you have a lump-free pastry cream, one last note of advice! Before you use pastry cream, you need to “refresh it” or “condition” it. All this means is you need to beat it so that it becomes smooth and silky. This won’t get any lumps out but it will create a more pleasant product to eat and work with. Don’t try folding unconditioned pastry cream into whipped cream. It’s misery.
You can condition it with a stand mixer or by hand in a bowl with a rubber spatula.
Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream
- 473 g Milk
- ½ Vanilla bean seeded
- 125 g Sugar
- 1 Whole egg
- 2 Egg Yolks
- 50 g Cornstarch
- Split and scrape the seeds from half a vanilla bean pod. Save the pod for another use or throw it in!
- Heat milk, sugar and vanilla beans in a medium pot and bring to a boil.
- Blanchir (whisk) eggs and yolks with cornstarch. Temper milk mixture into eggs. Return to pot, turning heat to medium, whisk until it begins to thicken. Boil 1 minute while constantly whisking.
- Pour out onto plastic-wrap lined baking pan, cover with another sheet of plastic wrap, poke holes and cool completely. You can store it for up to 7 days in the refrigerator.
How to Prepare Pastry Cream for Use:
- Before you use pastry cream, you need to “refresh it” or “condition” it. All this means is you need to beat it so that it becomes smooth and silky. This won’t get any lumps out but it will create a more pleasant product to eat and work with.
- Place desire amount of pastry cream in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until smooth. You don’t want to beat it too long or it will loosen and the cornstarch with lose some of it’s hold and it will not firm back up when chilled. This can lead to loose, unruly fillings.
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