This post is about the technique of making pastry cream. See Pastry Cream Recipe for an in depth discussion of this French pastry essential. This photograph features swirls of lightened pastry cream on top.
We thickened ours with flour so it could be frozen or used in frozen desserts. Cornstarch breaks down if frozen and thawed.
This is a base recipe and can be cut in half or scaled up as necessary.
The base recipe can be flavored with coffee, liqueurs, liquor, citrus zest, or chocolate for just a few ideas.
One of my readers let me know that she used this pastry cream in a pastry shell, topped it with pears, baked it for 40 minutes, and it didn't break.
Basic Pastry Cream
Note - The amount of ingredient shown in the pictures is half of this Basic Pastry Cream
1 ½ cups milk, hot
4 large egg yolks
½ cup granulated sugar (100 grams or 3 ½ ounces)
¼ cup all purpose flour (35 grams or a heavy ounce)
2 teaspoons vanilla or 1 vanilla bean
If using the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and add to the milk along with the pod; heat the milk until hot but not boiling.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl. Whisk in the flour.
Remove the pod from the milk if using. Add the milk slowly, whisking well and scraping the corners of the pan with a rubber spatula to make sure all of the egg yolk mixture is incorporated.
Strain the mixture into a saucepan and place over medium heat.
Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla (if using extract).
It will be very thick and will leave a trail when a spatula is run through it.
Pour into a storage container, cover the surface with plastic wrap, poke a few holes in it and let it cool. Refrigerate overnight to chill or freeze.
When ready to use, the cream will be very stiff. Whisk it to loosen it.
Yield: 2 cups (About 454 grams or 16 ounces)
Stabilized Pastry Cream with Gelatin
At the bakery, we would stabilize the pastry cream when it would be lightened with whipped cream. This allowed it to hold its shape when piped and not soften if left at room temperature.
Additions to the Basic Recipe
1 ½ teaspoon gelatin
2 teaspoons cold water
Stir the gelatin into the cold water, making sure all of it has been incorporated. Set aside.
When it is fully cooked, tear the gelatin into pieces and sir it into the hot mixture. There is no need to liquefy it. The hot pastry cream will liquefy it.
Lightened Pastry Cream
Often we wanted a lighter, softer pastry cream. To the basic recipe with gelatin, add ½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks. Whisk the chilled pastry cream to soften it and fold in the whipped cream.
The lightened pastry cream with gelatin will keep these swirls stable without any detectin of the gelatin, even if at room temperature.
Thank you so much for all this information that you share with us. I appreciate so much.
I have a question: how long can a cake filled with pastry cream +gelatine+butter is safe at room temp?
Thank you so much
Helen S Fletcher says
Hi Arvi, The government suggestion for meat is 4 hours, so I would assume this would be fine for at least 2 to 3 hours.
Hello! I've heard that baking pastry cream causes it to curdle, if it was made with cornstarch. Do you you know if that's true? Since yours is made with flour, do you think I can use this pastry cream for a baked tart?
Hi Belinda - I haven't tried it so I really can't speak conclusively to it. However, these pastries bake for 35 to 40 minutes and the pastry cream doesn't break or curdle. Flour is the difference. Cornstarch heated too long will lose it's gelling power. I would keep the oven heat around 300° to 350° and not any higher.
Wow, thank you for replying so quickly! Now I have the confidence to try it, using pastry cream made with flour and your baking instructions. Thanks again!
Your welcome Belinda. Let me know how it goes.
It came out great! It went into a tart crust, topped with pears, then baked for about 40 minutes, and there were no problems at all with the pastry cream breaking. Thanks again!
Hi Belinda, Thank you so, so much for getting back to me. And so happy to hear this. I'll mention it in the post.
Do you think there is a difference in taste to use flour rather than corn starch to thicken pastry cream?
Ive always used corn starch but never had to freeze it.
HI M.J. - I've never used cornstarch but I can tell you that there is no discernable starch taste to the pastry cream. The other thing to remember is that this is a French cream and when it was invented they didn't have cornstarch. These pastries have to be frozen completely before going into the oven. The cornstarch will not hold up.
Lynette Pruett says
Thanks so much for this post, Helen! I know this sounds crazy, but in all of the years I’ve made pastry cream, I’ve never thought to sub flour for cornstarch for the thickening!!! And since I know that cornstarch can break down when frozen, I’ve never had the convenience of having pastry cream stashed in the freezer. DUH......
Sometimes it takes advice from a friend to ignite that lightbulb in our baking adventures. Thanks for being the one to illuminate this idea.
As always, thanks to Mike for his wonderful photos. And please stay safe; we all have a long winter ahead of us considering what the virus is doing in our country right now.
Hi Lynette - Thanks for this. But I am a bit frustrated. I have added a new tab on my blog for Technique where I will add things like the pastry cream and a lot of basic recipes and techniques. Well, the pastry cream is for tomorrows blog. The first time I added something to the technique section the same thing happened - it went out and shouldn't have. So, I was told it was fixed and lo and behold, it went out again. I quickly retrieved it but you are quick to look at your emails. Anyway, I'm so glad you found it helpful. I freeze it all the time and have it at a moments notice when I need it. I think your going to like tomorrows blog - Sunny Side Up Apricot Pastries. Have a good Thanksgiving and keep safe. Someday, far, far into the future - people will talk about the horrible Covid 19 virus. I would have rather read about it than lived it. Take care.
Lynette Pruett says
I definitely agree...reading history is much better than living it........