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Adventures in food for curious cooks.


Vanilla Pastry Cream: Creme Patissiere

Lynley Jones

The traditional creamy filling for French tarts and pasties. Great between the layers of a cake, or just eaten like vanilla pudding. (YUM!)

Visit People Like Pie for the series that inspired this recipe.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups


2 cups whole milk, plus a splash more if needed for storage (see notes)

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract


1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat with the lid askew until piping hot but not boiling (you'll see steam but no bubbles). Stir occasionally and do not let it scorch.  When hot, turn the heat to low and put the lid on.  

2. Use an electric mixer or stand mixer with the paddle attachment to blend the egg yolks together. (You can do this by hand with a whisk, but it's a whole lot of beating.)  Beat in the sugar and continue beating for 2-3 minutes until the mixture turns pale yellow and thickens enough to "form the ribbon." (This means that if you lift the beater briefly, you'll see that the eggs that fall back into the bowl lay on top like a sort-of ribbon for a moment, before blending back into the bowl.) 

3. Sprinkle the flour into the egg mixture and beat to combine.

4. Temper the eggs with the hot milk:

With the mixer running, begin adding hot milk to the mixture, a few drops at a time, mixing it in thoroughly before adding more.  Add a few more drops, mix them in, then add a small stream, then a larger stream, etc., mixing thoroughly after each addition.  This gradual approach gently warms the eggs as it incorporates the hot milk into them without scrambling them.  When all the milk has been added, the outside of the bowl should feel warm to the touch.

5. Stir the egg/milk mixture into a saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high.  Use a wire whisk to stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan in all directions as you bring the mixture to a boil.  As it heats up, it will become noticeably thicker and more difficult to whisk. When it begins to boil, it may seem briefly lumpy. Turn the heat to medium-low and continue to stir for about 2 minutes to cook the flour and make everything smooth. The pastry cream will now look and feel exactly like vanilla pudding.

6. Remove the pan from the heat and use a rubber spatula to stir in the butter.  When the butter is completely melted and incorporated into the cream, stir in the vanilla extract.

7. Cool the pastry cream before using. (See notes for preventing a skin from forming as it cools.) 


This is the pastry cream used to make a Classic French Fruit Tart.

The skin on top of your pudding or pastry cream forms when the hot surface of the cream comes in contact with cool air - which is exactly what happens when it cools to room temperature in your kitchen. If you're one of those people who likes to eat the "skin" then go for it! But if you want to prevent this, you have some options:

Option 1: Cool it in the pot with the lid on. If you have a cooling rack, put the pot on the rack first. Remove the lid to stir it every few minutes for the first 15 minutes or so, then just leave it covered to finish cooling. When cool, transfer it to a covered container for storage.

Option 2: Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the pastry cream. To be honest, this method annoys me a little because some of the pastry cream sticks to the plastic wrap and ends up in the garbage instead of in my stomach. (But it's only a little, so I probably shouldn't be so sensitive!)

Option 3: Drizzle a splash of milk over the top of the pastry cream. If you put the pastry cream directly into a tall container, you can drizzle up to about a Tablespoon of milk over the top to prevent it from being exposed to the air. When the pastry cream is completely cool, just stir the milk into the cream and refrigerate. (If you're storing it in a wide container for some reason, don't use this method. You'll need too much milk to cover the surface.)

Option 4: Store in a zip-top bag. Even though this option may still end up with pastry cream stuck to the plastic, it's probably the best option for long-term storage in the freezer. Fill the bag, squeeze all the air out and freeze it flat. When you're ready to use it, you can just tear the plastic off of the frozen chunk of pastry cream and transfer it to a covered container to defrost. Or, keep it in the zip-top bag to defrost, then snip a corner of the bag to squeeze it out when you're ready to use it.

Whatever method you choose, you can store pastry cream in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer for months.