Pasty cream, or creme patissiere, is one of the staples of a pastry chef. It is basically a thinner, sometime richer type of custard. It is most often used to fill things like donuts and eclairs, but it can be used as the base for a fruit tart or many other desserts. Another great use for it is in pain au raisin. The key thing about the cream is that it has to be smooth, so you must sieve it. Once your cream has cooked, simple pour it into a large, fine strainer and stir it out into a clean bowl. Make sure to press plastic wrap down on to of the cream to prevent it from forming a skin in the refrigerator. The pastry cream can be made a day or two in advance of when you want to use it and stored in the refrigerator.
This recipe for pastry cream is my own, not from a cookbook. It’s a bit lighter than some versions because I use low fat milk and not whole milk, but feel free to use whichever you prefer. The most important part of making it is stirring after you have returned the combined egg/milk mixture to the stove to prevent the custard from burning. It takes several minutes to thicken completely, so you have to stir continuously. This constant stirring also helps prevent large clumps from forming.
I used my pastry cream to fill some miniature eclairs. Eclairs are made from choux pastry and are light, crisp and hollow on the inside. Choux pastry is not hard to make, though it does have the reputation of being something difficult. I have made it before, but I’ll reprint the basic recipe here so you will have something to put your pastry cream inside.
The eclairs are light and delicious. Pipe the pastry cream into them only when ready to eat because they will soften somewhat if sitting around filled with cream. The best part about eating the finished eclairs is how the pastry cream oozes out the sides and back. You can’t really go wrong with anything that oozes vanilla pastry cream.
Nic’s Vanilla Pastry Cream
2 1/2 cups low fat milk
1/2 vanilla bean
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer over medium heat then turn off heat. Scrape vanilla bean into milk.
While milk is cooking, combine eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat until smooth, then add conrstarch and beat until smooth again. When the milk is done, pour a few tablespoons of milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Repeat this a few times until about half of the hilk has been added. It is important to add the hot milk slowly (tempering) so you do not cook the eggs.
Add the remaining milk and return the whole mixture to the sauce pan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the custard thickens – about 5 minutes.
Strain through a sieve into a medium bowl, cover surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to use.
Eclair Choux Pastry
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
3 1/2 tbsp butter (1.75 ounces), melted
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 eggs, at room temperature
chocolate (for topping)
Preheat oven to 400F.
Combine milk, water, butter, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the flour all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until dough comes together in a ball. Continue to cook and stir for one additional minute.
Transfer dough to mixer or clean bowl and let mix at a low speed for 2 minutes until slightly cooled. Touch the outside of your mixer bowl and if it feels very hot, beat the mixture for another minute. Add eggs one at a time, waiting until the first egg is fully incorporated to add the next one. Increase mixer speed to make batter very smooth.
Transfer mixture into a ziploc bag or a piping bag. Snip the corner of the ziploc to create a 1/4-1/2 inch hole. Pipe mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making 24-26 eclairs, 1 -1 1/2 inches long each (if you want to make large eclairs, simply increase the baking time until golden).
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until deep golden brown.
Cool completely on a wire rack.
To assemble Eclairs:
Melt chocolate into a small bowl and drizzle onto cooled eclair shells. Let chocolate set. Use a serated knife to cut eclairs in half, going almost all the way through the pastry to make a pocket. Transfer chilled pastry cream to a ziploc or piping bag and pipe inside the shells. Serve.
Makes 26 mini eclairs.
AnonymousMarch 2, 2006
Stir it into a clean bowel? I dearly hope not!
NicMarch 2, 2006
Heh, thanks for catching that typo, Anonymous! It would have made for an interesting recipe. Or perhaps a science project.
emilyMarch 2, 2006
I love eclairs.They look amazing.
CathyMarch 2, 2006
Ooo, they look fantastic Nic – I’m sure they’re a crowd pleaser too. I was puzzled why you put the chocolate topping on before filling them, but after thinking about it I realized that would make last minute assembly a snap.
NicMarch 2, 2006
Hi Cathy. Also, the pastry cream will ooze out if you move them around too much. It would be much harder to do the chocolate if they were filled.
NikiMarch 2, 2006
Agree with the last sentence! You could have used this recipe for the next SHF…dairy theme! So, who gets to be the lucky recipients of these? They look too good to just keep at home for the housemates. 🙂
JoeMarch 2, 2006
Great job Nic – these look so tasty! It has been a very long time since I’ve had an eclair
AngieMarch 3, 2006
Nic, what petite eclairs you have there. Very nice indeed 🙂
HelenMarch 3, 2006
Yum. These look so good! You’ve tempted my envious tastebuds are always =)
AnonymousMarch 15, 2006
This is an interesting recipe. I use my Grandmothers version for the pastry which involves one cup water and one stick of butter boiling, you add 1 cup of flour and a pinch of salt slowly then 4 eggs one at a time stiring with a wooden spoon for 2 min after each egg. Spoon them on a stone. Bake at 400 for 23 min. Your picture looks completely different from the ones I have made…much more dense, I’ll have to give them a try.
AshlieApril 16, 2008
I can’t get mine to be fluffy like these. They get all flat. When I first bring them out of the oven they are fluffy but after cooling they are really flat. Is there anything I can do for that?
AliaSeptember 5, 2008
Ashlie, try not to open the oven while baking process or it will result in flat eclairs. After u bring them out, make little holes on the eclairs using a toothpick to make way for the hot air.
elleJanuary 15, 2009
To lower cholesterol from the eggs, can I substitute egg beaters for both the cream and the pastry?
NicoleJanuary 17, 2009
Elle – No, unfortunately you need the whole eggs for the pastry to come out correctly. The pastry cream should be ok with egg beaters, but it will not be as silky as one that includes yolks, as well.
SarahAugust 19, 2009
Thanks for the recipe for pastry cream. I’ve been wanting to make some but have always held myself back with other recipes. I’m glad that you made yours lighter. It tastes delicious and is the perfect companion to my blueberry tart. Tastes like the amazing cream from the Paris bakeries I love so much!
loloJune 23, 2012
i will try to make it ,thanks