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How to Make Perfect Pastry Cream

How to Make Perfect Pastry Cream

Perfect Pastry Cream

Discover the secret to mastering the delicate art of crafting the ultimate pastry cream – a sublime recipe that lends itself to some of the most divine desserts.

What binds the likes of eclairs, fruit tarts, Napoleons, cakes, cannolis, and a spectrum of pies together? The answer is a meticulously made, silky smooth pastry cream. This custard-based delight not only plays a crucial role in an assortment of sweet creations, but also stands out with its own delicious decadence.

Creating pastry cream is surprisingly straightforward, in spite of what most people think. And while it does share some qualities with the likes of crème anglaise, a notorious custard known to lapse into a scramble without careful monitoring, the inclusion of starch in pastry cream serves as a failsafe, ensuring a consistently smooth texture.

I embarked on my journey to master the craft of pastry cream several years ago. It began on a whimsical trip to Jamaica for my brother’s wedding, where I was captivated by an assortment of delightful, fresh fruit tarts. Every day, my anticipation for these tropical treats swelled.

Half a year later, our families reconvened to relive the memories from our vacation. I found myself in the role of the tart artisan (tartisan?), a role I had no prior experience in. Driven by a sense of culinary curiosity, I conducted online research and explored cookbook aisles at my local bookstore. I was drawn to Ina Garten’s “Barefoot in Paris,” captivated by a recipe for tarts accompanied by a captivating photograph.

Perfect Pastry CreamIn my first attempt at creating the pastry cream, I stirred and whisked with fervor, navigating the sultry August heat in my compact condo. Despite my efforts, the cream didn’t thicken to my expectation. It held a pleasant taste, yet its texture was off the mark. Undeterred, I packed up my creations and set off on a journey to my parents’ house.

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When I revisited the world of pastry cream, I sought the wisdom of Julia Child, the revered matriarch of French cuisine in the United States. She advocated for the use of flour as a thickening agent. While this method offered the desired thickness, the dominant flavor of flour was less than ideal. Through experimentation, I discovered that a blend of cornstarch and flour yielded an exquisite balance of flavor and consistency.

Next, I ventured into the realm of sugar content and found that a subtle reduction still led to delicious results. More significant than the sugar, in my opinion, was the inclusion of vanilla. For special events, I indulge in the luxury of using real vanilla bean seeds for an intensified flavor. This fragrant addition accentuates the sweetness more than any extra sugar could.

To me, the true charm of pastry cream lies in how versatile it is. It effortlessly finds a home in a broad range of desserts, adding a touch of elegance to each. However, I must admit, my personal favorite way to enjoy this delicacy is in its simplest form – served in a custard cup adorned with a sprinkle of fresh berries and a garnish of mint. A true testament to the elegance of simplicity.

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Perfect Pastry Cream

How to Make Perfect Pastry Cream

  • Author: Honest Cooking
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x


Master the art of that perfect, delicious, elegant pastry cream.


Units Scale
  • 1 1/2 cups (355 mL) whole milk
  • 5 large egg yolks (at room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (130 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half length-wise, seeds scraped*
  • 2 tablespoons (10 grams) cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon (7 grams) flour
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon (15 grams) unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt


  • Heat milk in a small saucepan with the vanilla bean and seeds over medium-high heat until it’s just before the boiling point. You’ll see a skin form on the top of the liquid, and the milk will appear to “dance” underneath the surface. Remove from heat.
  • Meanwhile, combine egg yolks and sugar in a mixing bowl. With electric mixer (use paddle attachment if using a stand mixer), beat on medium-high speed until the eggs are thick and pale, and fall back on themselves in a ribbon, about four or five minutes. Reduce speed to low and add cornstarch, flour, and salt.
  • With mixer on low, slowly pour in a little scalded milk. Continue pouring adding milk slowly, to raise the temperature of the eggs. When mixed, transfer to a large saucepan and heat over medium-low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens. Don’t worry if it appears to curdle, simply switch to a whisk and it will come together again.
  • Remove from heat. Add butter, Grand Marnier, and vanilla; whisk to combine. Pour cream through a sieve into a medium-sized bowl. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream, refrigerate until cool. (For faster cooling, place bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice water.)


*Can substitute 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract for the vanilla bean. Add the extract at the end, off heat.

  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 20 mins
  • Category: Dessert
  • Cuisine: French

Keywords: custard, pastry, pastry cream, dessert, cake, pastries, vanilla

View Comments (12)
  • Sara: this is a great retrospective on a comfort food that I think everyone has from their childhood. I like your Grand Marnier addition. My mom sometime add rum and a bit of sweet cocoa powder diluted in milk, once it’s ready. Makes for a delicious dark alternative.

  • I usually use Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for pastry cream. It’s all cornstarch, but I’ve never had a problem with it thickening. I’ll have to try a mix of flour and cornstarch though!

  • I’ve been wanting to try to make a Boston Cream Pie for the longest time. I found what looked like a great recipe, but the custard called for 1/2 cup of flour and 1 1/2 TABLESPOONS of vanilla (which was almost half of the tiny bottle I had). That stuff was horrible! It sucked! It went in the trash and I happened to find your recipe.

    Wow! It’s amazing (so far–it’s still chilling)! I actually licked the spatula. Even if it doesn’t get stiff enough, it’s one of the best-tasting things I’ve ever made. Thank you!

    • Oh no! That’s horrible about your experience with Boston Cream Pie, but I guess we all have those results sometimes.

      I’m glad you’re happy with this pastry cream!

      • Yes–it’s wonderful. It was perfect in the cake. Now if I can just work up enough courage to try making cream puffs… I wonder how your cream would be in phyllo cups.

        • Ooh Sara–I just made your custard again. I wanted something extra special to have while watching the royal wedding (strange, I know), so I experimented this time and combined a couple tablespoons of cocoa with the dry ingredients. Then when it was hot & thick, I tossed in about a quarter bag of chocolate chips and two big spoonfulls of Nutella, let it all melt, and dumped it in a couple pretty glass bowls. Y’all have GOT to try this (using as much or as little chocolate as you want)! I did have to add more salt to balance all the sweet. I bet a little peanut butter would be good, too.

  • Sara,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe. I entered a baking competition and needed a good pastry cream for my cake but I had never made it before. I searched the internet and found so many variations. I experimented with several recipes and yours won hands down! I even tried one that called for unflavored gelatin, it was like rubber!

    I used your recipe and made one batch of vanilla and one chocolate rum and it was delicious. This recipe is a keeper!!

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