Pastry Cream- How to make that Creamy Center

Hello friends and neighbors! Sorry for yet another delayed entry, but this one has been long in coming. When I first asked friends and family if I should cover making pastry cream on here, the answer was a sonorous “YES.” I then suggested that I should cover pate au choûx as well (the puff pastry that gets filled with pastry cream to make cream puffs, eclairs, etc.)

“No, no- we just want to eat it a big bowl of it in front of the tv.” – several relatives and friends

…Right. I can’t really conceive of doing that, but it’s your call. Now, while I await the no-doubt annoyed letters from the First Lady for reversing her work against obesity:

Pastry Cream

Pastry cream (or Creme Pastissier, if you want to be all French about it), is one of the staple recipes a pastry chef- or at least a French-trained one- knows. As I mentioned above, pastry cream is the tasty, rich custard filling found in eclairs, cream puffs, and Boston Cream Pie. This recipe is for a regular vanilla bean custard, but feel free to experiment and make any kind of flavor you like!
The pictures here show the double batch I make for my job, but I’ll be giving you the recipe for a single batch- the method is absolutely the same.

1 qt. whole milk
8 oz. sugar, divided into 4 oz. amounts.
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
2.5 oz. corn starch
2 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 oz. butter

-Wooden Spoon
-Sieve or Strainer with fine mesh
-Either a stand mixer OR a large bowl and one larger bowl with ice.
-Container and Plastic Wrap


Ingredients and tools all assembled. Remember- Mise en place!

Step 1. Mix the milk with 4 oz. of the sugar. Try not to have too much settle on the bottom of the pot, otherwise it may burn.

Next, you slice and scrape your vanilla bean. I prefer using vanilla bean over extract whenever I can just because the flavor is infinitely better, and the smell is GLORIOUS.


Lay your bean out flat and get a paring knife…


…and slice it right down the center.


Using the back of your knife, gently but firmly scrape the inside of the pod, gathering up all the little black grains inside.


Here it is. This is what those little black flecks in French Vanilla ice cream are.

Once you’ve scraped both halves of the bean pod, drop the grains into the milk and stir. If you want, you can throw the pod in there as well- nothing wrong with a little more flavor, and you’ll be straining them out later anyway.
Just a note- vanilla beans ARE admittedly expensive, so if that’s a concern, you can substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract (albeit, this is like going out on the town in a golf cart instead of a Ferrari.)


Once the vanilla is stirred in, put the pot over medium to medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. DO NOT LEAVE THIS POT ALONE. Leaving something on the stove in any case is foolish, but just remember the old saying: “A watched pot never boils, but an unwatched pot of dairy will boil over and ruin your day for the next 3 hours while you clean it up.”


While the milk is heating up, whisk together your eggs and yolks with the remaining sugar and cornstarch. Ideally, everything should be around room temperature, and you don’t want any lumps. If there ARE some lumps, don’t worry too much- you’ll be straining it all later.


Now you just wait for the milk to boil. Keep a VERY close eye on it- milk will go from a light simmer to an explosive rolling boil VERY quick. As soon as you see the foam start to rise, take it off the heat IMMEDIATELY.

Now, it is time to TEMPER your eggs- this means pouring some of the hot milk into the eggs first and mixing it briskly. What this does is gently raise the temperature of the eggs before you add them in to the bulk of the milk. If you pour your egg mix right into the hot milk, you’ll wind up with sweet vanilla-flavored scrambled eggs- not exactly pleasant. 


So you add a LITTLE of the milk….


And stir briskly.


Repeat until you have about a third of the milk mixed in to the eggs…


… and then pour the eggy-milk mix back into the pot, mixing well. You may notice the mixture thickening up almost immediately. This is supposed to happen- don’t worry!

Next, back on the heat (medium-low to medium this time!), and you will be boiling the custard for a minute, whisking constantly.
No, that was not a figure of speech- you will be boiling it for ONE MINUTE. The mixture will thicken considerably first, and then boil with thick, slow, blorping bubbles. Whisk constantly to keep the custard from burning, and when you see the first bubble, count to sixty, and then take it off the heat for good.

After one minute of boiling, your pastry cream should look like this:

Mmmmm… Don’t worry, you’re almost done!
Next comes the straining. Set your strainer or sieve over a large bowl, and pour the pastry cream in (a bit at a time if necessary.) Use your wooden spoon and gently stir the cream so it goes through. 
Once it’s all strained, you need to cool it down and add the butter, and you can do this one of two ways. The way I have shown here uses a KitchenAid electric mixer- strain your pastry cream into the bowl, and mix it on the lowest speed possible with the paddle attachment. Add the butter, and mix until A. the butter is melted and gone, and B. The cream is cool enough to touch the bowl.

If you don’t have a mixer, you can go the more traditio
nal route. Strain you pastry cream in a bowl, and set it in a larger bowl with ice. Add the butter, and slowly mix with a wooden spoon until the butter is completely melted.

Once you’re done, get a piece of plastic wrap and lay it DIRECTLY ON THE SURFACE OF THE CREAM. The reason being that as custard cools, it forms a very unappealing skin. The plastic wrap will prevent this. Try to have as few air bubbles as possible.

Stick it in the fridge to cool, and you’re done!

There you have it- your own pastry cream, ready for mixing, flavoring, filling pastries with… or sitting on the couch and eating out of a big bowl.

Still waiting for those angry letters from Mrs. Obama.

In the meantime-

Stay classy,