The key to a great pastry cream is using the minimum of starch. You need enough so the cream holds a shape, but not so much it interferes with the flavor. This version uses cornstarch; just be careful not to keep cooking it once it has thickened. This is perfect in Napoleons, pies, tarts, or cakes.

Recipe Summary

prep:
10 mins
cook:
20 mins
additional:
2 hrs
total:
2 hrs 30 mins
Servings:
12
Yield:
3 cups
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Ingredients

12
Original recipe yields 12 servings
The ingredient list now reflects the servings specified
Ingredient Checklist

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Place whole egg and 2 egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Add sugar, corn starch, and salt. Whisk together completely until mixture turns from yellow to a very page creamy color and is slightly thickened, 5 to 8 minutes.

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  • Place milk in a saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape the cut side with a paring knife to extract the seeds (paste). Add the seeds to the milk. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until milk just barely starts to simmer and a few small bubbles appear on the surface. Remove from heat. Whisk hot milk into egg mixture, starting with a small splash then incorporating the rest. Pour mixture back into saucepan.

  • Place pan over medium-low heat and continue to whisk until mixture begin to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool 5 minutes. Add chunks of butter and whisk until butter melts into the warm milk mixture. Pass mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove and chunks of cooked egg or vanilla seeds. Cover surface with plastic to keep it from discoloring; refrigerate until thoroughly chilled 2 to 3 hours.

Chef's Notes:

Tip: Save the scraped pods, and stick them in your sugar container for lovely, vanilla-scented sugar!

To use this cream as Napoleon filling, here's Chef John's recipe for Mille Feuille, or Napoleon Pastry Sheets.

To use it in cream puffs, you can lighten it by folding in whipped cream. Whip about 3/4 cup of heavy cream until medium peaks form. Fold it into cooled pastry cream. Get the recipe for Cream Puff "Crack Buns" (Choux au Craquelin).

Nutrition Facts

120 calories; protein 2.3g; carbohydrates 13.9g; fat 6.3g; cholesterol 63.9mg; sodium 210.9mg. Full Nutrition
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Reviews (37)

Most helpful positive review

Rating: 5 stars
07/29/2017
First time making pastry cream and it was delicious! I chose this recipe because the instructions were clearest and easiest to follow. If you don't have all the ingredients on hand, substitutions are fine since that's the situation I found myself in. I don't carry kosher salt at home and only table salt; used 1/4 tsp and it came out fine. I also only had 2% milk and not whole milk but followed the same measurement of 2 cups; came out fine. Don't have vanilla beans at home so I added 1 tsp vanilla extract into the milk on the stove; came out fine, too. This recipe is a keeper! Read More
(24)

Most helpful critical review

Rating: 3 stars
03/02/2017
I don't know what I did wrong. Are you sure the recipe needs one whole teaspoon of kosher salt? I followed the recipe EXACTLY with fresh ingredients and it seems too salty. Read More
(15)
47 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 35
  • 4 star values: 6
  • 3 star values: 2
  • 2 star values: 3
  • 1 star values: 1
Rating: 5 stars
07/29/2017
First time making pastry cream and it was delicious! I chose this recipe because the instructions were clearest and easiest to follow. If you don't have all the ingredients on hand, substitutions are fine since that's the situation I found myself in. I don't carry kosher salt at home and only table salt; used 1/4 tsp and it came out fine. I also only had 2% milk and not whole milk but followed the same measurement of 2 cups; came out fine. Don't have vanilla beans at home so I added 1 tsp vanilla extract into the milk on the stove; came out fine, too. This recipe is a keeper! Read More
(24)
Rating: 3 stars
03/02/2017
I don't know what I did wrong. Are you sure the recipe needs one whole teaspoon of kosher salt? I followed the recipe EXACTLY with fresh ingredients and it seems too salty. Read More
(15)
Rating: 5 stars
11/15/2018
IN REGARDS TO SALT AND BUTTER: This recipe uses *COARSE* salt and *UNSALTED* butter, meaning you should use 1/4 TSP REGULAR TABLE/FINE SALT if you don't have coarse salt and make sure to NOT use salted butter. If you only have salted butter, then use even less salt!! Very delicious! I was extremely skeptical of this initially. When I tasted it on its own I thought it tasted too much like vanilla pudding. It wasn't until after I finally chilled it for a few hours and piped it into some choux pastry puffs that I found it very good! I didn't have actual vanilla beans and used 2 TSP pure extract and it still came out ok. I think that next time I will definitely use either beans or paste. This is a recipe where you will really taste the vanilla you add to it so a better quality one is necessary. I also did not follow the note to add whipped cream to the pastry cream when piping into cream puffs. It was fine in my cream puffs without the whipping because I didn't cut the puffs open (just piped the cream straight in). If you want the pastry cream to be visible/outside you might want that whipped cream for structure. Otherwise it jiggles around like pudding! Read More
(13)
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Rating: 2 stars
09/22/2018
Chef John is the best. Let's just get that right out of the way. But unfortunately 1 tsp kosher salt in this recipe completely destroys the pastry cream. 1/2 tsp at the very most, perhaps even less. Read More
(9)
Rating: 5 stars
04/30/2017
This recipe really is easier than others. To anyone who is not a big fan of stirring for what seems like an eternity over a hot stove, this recipe is for you. It comes together literally in just a few minutes. I plan to make this again and again. Thanks. Read More
(7)
Rating: 4 stars
09/16/2017
I followed exactly but I, too, felt it's too salty. I will no doubt make it again but reduce the salt. Read More
(5)
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Rating: 2 stars
11/29/2018
I followed the recipe exactly. The 1 teaspoon of kosher salt was way too much. Half a teaspoon would have been plenty. If I make it again I will also add a few drops of vanilla for a bit more flavor. Read More
(5)
Rating: 5 stars
05/04/2018
I only did a pinch of salt BUT this turned out really well. I ended up whisking step 1 much longer than it states. It was easy enough to make too, just show no fear like Chef John says! Read More
(4)
Rating: 4 stars
10/25/2018
Way too much salt. Next time I'll try 1/4 tsp. Read More
(4)