Crème Pâtissière / Pastry Cream

Crème pâtissière, also known as pastry cream or ‘crème pat’, is a key ingredient of many French desserts such as soufflés, éclairs, fruit tarts and mille-feuille. It is a rich, creamy egg-based custard thickened with starch and is one of the most used recipes in French baking. Typical flavourings that complement the pastry cream include vanilla, liqueurs, chocolate, coffee and fruit purees.

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Unless you know the language, the names can be quite confusing. A crème anglaise is a light pouring custard made with sugar, egg yolks and milk. Thicken it with some starch through flour and cornflour, you get crème pâtissière. When gelatin is added and whipped cream is folded in, and it sets in a mould, it is crème bavaroise. Beating in softened butter produces German buttercream or crème mousseline.

There’s no denying the appeal of a classic French dessert. Paris is one my favourite destinations and a major reason is French desserts! As you walk along the cobbled streets of Paris, you’ll find beautiful display windows of a pâtissière (pastries) or a Boulangerie (bread). You can’t help but gawk at them! Fascinating isn’t it how the French have made an art out of science 🙂

Time for me to convert my fascination into actual baking and experimenting! I’ll do a series of posts on French baking – think of Éclairs, buttery Croissants, Opera Cake (I already have a version on the blog here), Mille-Feuille, Religieuse, Paris-Brest. This Crème pâtissière is the first step in that direction. Wish me luck 🙂

It’s so smooth and creamy and just plain yum! The speckles of vanilla add a nice touch too.There are some little tips and tricks that will help get the best result. Using custard powder instead of cornflour will give a richer and more stable end result. Use vanilla pod for the best vanilla flavour, but if you can’t get hold of it, use good quality vanilla extract. Also, tempering the eggs with hot milk is a critical step, if the hot milk is added all at once to eggs, it will scramble them. Hence it’s very important to do it gradually, bringing the temperature of eggs up slowly. Another important point is to cover the surface of the cream with some cling film to avoid forming a film on top.

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This will make about 1 cup of pastry cream. The pastry cream can be stored in the fridge covered for 3 days. Whisk it lightly before using.

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The original recipe is by renowned French pastry chef Eric Lanlard. 

Ingredients –

3 eggs, regular sized
50g caster sugar
20g custard powder/cornflour (about 2 tablespoons)
½ vanilla pod / 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
250 ml milk

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Procedure –

1. In a heatproof large bowl, break all the eggs and whisk them slightly. Add the sugar and whisk it together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Sift the custard powder into the mixture and whisk it until combined.

2. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, add the milk, vanilla seeds and scraped-out vanilla pod. (If using vanilla extract, add that here).

How to extract the vanilla seeds from a podFlatten the vanilla pod with the back of your knife. Split the bean in half down its length using a sharp knife. This will expose the glorious seeds which contain all the vanilla goodness. Scrape out the seeds from each half with the dull side of the knife by holding one tip of the pod with your finger.

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3. Heat the milk till it almost boils. Remove from heat and remove the vanilla pods. (You can dry the vanilla pods and add it your sugar canister to give it a vanilla flavour too)
4. Temper the egg mixture by putting just a little hot milk in. This makes sure the eggs get used to the temperature and don’t get scrambled with sudden heat. Add just a little bit at a time and keep whisking the whole time.

5. Once all the milk has been incorporated, pour the mixture back into your saucepan and start cooking it over medium-high heat. Once it reaches boiling point, keep cooking it for another minute or so to ensure the custard powder is perfectly cooked. Keep whisking so that it doesn’t stick to the base of the saucepan. It’ll start to thicken and reach the custard-like consistency.

6. Once cooked, remove from the heat. To ensure a smooth pastry cream, pass it through a sieve into a clean bowl while it’s still hot. It will also catch any pieces of cooked eggs if present.
7. Our crème pâtissière is now ready. Cover it with cling film directly covering its surface to avoid forming a skin. Let it cool slightly over the counter before placing it in the fridge to cool down completely. If you are not using it right away, it can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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Flavourings & Variations –

  • A lighter pastry cream – whisk in ½ cup of softly whipped cream into the cooled pastry cream.
  • Chocolate pastry cream – whisk in 100g of melted dark chocolate (70%) into the cooled pastry cream.
  • Coffee pastry cream – add 1-1½ tsp (or to taste) of instant coffee in the hot milk while making.
  • Fruit flavoured pastry cream – add ¼ cup (or to taste) fruit puree of your choice – raspberry, strawberry etc.

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