Classic Pastry Cream Recipe

Karen Frazier
pastry cream

Cooks can use pastry cream in an array of recipes. This versatile cream fills everything from pies to éclairs.

Basic Pastry Cream

Basic pastry cream is similar to a vanilla custard. You can make it lighter by folding in one to two cups of whipped cream after the pastry cream has completely cooled.

Yields 2 1/2 cups


  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar + 1/3 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces


  1. Halve a vanilla bean lengthwise and, using the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into a medium saucepan containing 2 cups of milk. Add the pods to the milk mixture as well.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and allow to steep for five minutes.
  3. Remove the vanilla bean pods from the milk and return it to the stovetop over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and simmer until the sugar completely dissolves, stirring constantly.
  4. Whisk egg yolks and eggs together in a medium bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup sugar and the cornstarch. Add the cornstarch/sugar mixture to the eggs and whisk until well combined.
  5. Working one tablespoon at a time, whisk the hot milk and sugar into the eggs. Add only a small amount at a time so eggs don't cook. When eggs have been tempered with about half the hot milk, carefully whisk the egg mixture back into the remainder of the milk and sugar in the pan.
  6. Place the pan on the stove over medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. When the mixture boils and thickens, remove it from the heat.
  7. Working one piece of butter at a time, stir the butter into the hot mixture until it melts completely.
  8. Pour mixture into a heatproof glass bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent it from forming a skin. Chill until completely cooled before using.

Orange Pastry Cream

Orange pastry cream uses the recipe above with a few simple variations.

  1. When you add the vanilla in step one, also add the finely grated zest of one orange.
  2. When you remove the vanilla in step three, strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve to remove the orange peel.
  3. Proceed with the recipe as written.

Chocolate Pastry Cream

To make chocolate pastry cream using the recipe above, add two ounces of finely grated dark chocolate in step six, and stir the cream constantly so it melts and blends as the cream thickens.

Other Pastry Creams

You can also vary the flavors of pastry creams by leaving out the vanilla bean.

  1. Leave out the vanilla bean pod and eliminate the first two steps that call for the milk to be heated and the vanilla bean to steep. Instead, start with step three, revised as follows: Place the milk in a medium-sized saucepan. Warm it over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and simmer until the sugar completely dissolves, stirring constantly.
  2. Follow the recipe as written after step three.
  3. In step seven, when you whisk in the butter, also stir in one teaspoon of flavoring extract, such as almond or maple.

Uses for Cream

Whether you're making cream pies or donuts, these classic pastry cream recipes will fit the bill. Use pastry cream in the following types of recipes:

cream filled pastries
  • Boston cream pie
  • Tarts
  • Layer cakes
  • Danishes
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Cannoli
  • Profiteroles
  • Éclairs
  • Puff pastry shells
  • Croissants
  • Cream horns

A Versatile Ingredient

Once you master the technique of making pastry cream in different flavors, it will become your go-to recipe when you're making a dessert. Having a good pastry cream recipe and technique in your back pocket will open you up to a world of pastries.

Classic Pastry Cream Recipe