Crème pâtissière or pastry cream is basically a vanilla custard thickened with corn (or plain) flour. It is used as a filling in many many French pâtisseries and desserts, such as in choux pastry (to make cream puffs), fruit tarts, etc…or any pastries (vanilla slice, etc…).
It’s very simple and easy to make (it’s like making custard sauce without flour).
As explained in the bread and butter pudding recipe, the secret is to use egg yolks only to have a finer consistency, and possibly a mix of pouring cream and milk to have something richer. I also use a pinch of two of instant coffee powder to enhance the vanilla flavor.
But since I’m talking about basics today, I’ll just use milk (and vanilla) for now.
- 500 ml (= 2 cups) milk
- 2 vanilla beans (seeds + pods)
- optional: 2 pinches of instant coffee powder
- 6 egg yolks
- 120g sugar
- 40g corn starch (Maïzena)
- optional : 20 to 40g plain flour / custard powder** for thicker consistency
(for gluten-free: use corn starch)
- optional flavors: 1-2 tablespoon(s) Grand-Marnier, dark rhum, kirsch (cherry-based liquor with a slight bitter almond taste), etc…
- put milk, vanilla seeds and pods in a saucepan and bring to a simmer
- meanwhile, beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl (or food-processor) until mixture becomes whiter*. Add corn starch (and flour if using) and mix until smooth
- while still beating (or with the motor running), pour a bit of warm milk until incorporated. Make sure to stir constantly in order not to cook the eggs. Pour mixture back in the saucepan
- cook over low heat until mixture thickens, stirring constantly and vigorously.
- to prevent the formation of a “crust” on top of the cream when cooling, you can either add a little knob of butter on top of it, or add cling film as close to the cream as you can.
*Note about beating eggs and sugar
Most baking recipes mention to “beat eggs and sugar until pale and thick”. Why is that? There are 2 reasons:
- if you leave sugar and eggs in a bowl without stirring, the sugar will “cook” the eggs, whereas when the mixture is pale, it means all the sugar melted, and can’t therefore “cook” the eggs
- the beating part is crucial because it already introduces air in the mixture. You can see by yourself: if you make the same recipe without beating the eggs with the sugar, the cake will be stodgier.
**Note about custard powder
To make custard, pastry cream, creme brulee or any vanilla filling, professionals use something called poudre à crème (which could be translated by “cream powder” or custard powder in English). It is a vanilla-flavored powder made of finely crushed pulses, bringing a finer consistency to the cream than regular flour.
There are 2 types of custard powders on the market: the “good” ones need eggs and warm milk, while the “bad” ones only need cold milk because they contain lots of additives and colorings.