How to Make Pastry Cream


I recently received an order for eclairs and cream puffs and since the How to Decorate Cookies with Royal Icing tutorial was so well-received, I thought that this order would provide a good opportunity to share with you a step-by-step tutorial on how pastry cream is made, as well as how the pâte à choux dough for eclairs and cream puffs is made, and how they are all assembled together. Prior to making Bostini Cream Pies, I was deathly afraid of pastry cream. I had heard horror stories about scrambled eggs, and to be honest I wanted nothing to do with it. However, after successfully making it, I have to say that I felt like an accomplished baker. Or maybe pastry chef? Either way, I felt like I had crossed that imaginary line in the kitchen that divides the big kids from the toddlers. I was finally a big kid. I could hang in the kitchen. My delicious pastry cream was proof. Since that first success I have made it again many times for many different recipes. There is nothing finer than a spoonful of freshly made pastry cream. Warm, smooth, creamy and utterly fantastic.

Alright, we’re going to make pastry cream, and then eclairs and cream puffs. Are you excited?!

No more fear. Grab your eggs, a whisk and strap on an apron. Whether you want to fill the eclairs and cream puffs I’ll show you how to make, or maybe a Boston cream pie or banana cream pie, you will feel like the grand poobah of the kitchen for mastering pastry cream. Ready, set, whisk!


I am using the same recipe that I used last summer when I made eclairs and cream puffs, this time walking you through each section step-by-step with commentary and pictures. If you want to be able to view and/or print the recipe without the commentary and pictures I suggest clicking over to that previous post where the recipe for pastry cream is listed without photos or extra notes.

A great big thank you to my sister Lauren for taking a ton of “action shots” while I prepared this so I wouldn’t have to worry about juggling a camera while I was whisking and stirring. That could have been ugly. (I’m not exactly known for my coordination.)

This post is going to be solely devoted to pastry cream, and then we will work through the pâte à choux dough for the eclairs and cream puffs, and finally the assembly. I hope you’ll find this to be a useful series!

Part 1: The Pastry Cream

This is the first step in making eclairs or cream puffs because the cream needs to chill for at least a couple of hours (preferably overnight) before you use it to fill the pastries. So let’s get started!

The ingredients:

2 cups half-and-half
½ cup sugar
Pinch salt
5 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract

A Note on Eggs

I realize that many people sometimes shy away from recipes that require you to work with eggs on a stove because of the risk of bacteria. Sure, you can heat it to 160°F, but how accurate is that thermometer? Even if you have complete confidence in your thermometer, it may still make you uncomfortable. When making any type of pastry creams or custards (and ice cream!) I highly recommend purchasing pasteurized eggs. These eggs have already been heated externally to temperatures that kill any and all bacteria that may exist. The beauty here is that you don’t need to worry about the temperature and know you are safe. My store currently sells Davidson’s brand, but I have also seen Land o’ Lakes brand. They are located right alongside regular eggs.



1. Heat the half-and-half, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, and the salt in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until simmering, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.


2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined.


Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until the sugar has begun to dissolve and the mixture is creamy, about 15 seconds.


Whisk in the cornstarch until combined and the mixture is pale yellow and thick, about 20 seconds.


3. When the half-and-half mixture reaches a full simmer, gradually whisk the simmering half-and-half into the yolk mixture to temper.


Return the mixture to the saucepan, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; return to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a few bubbles burst on the surface and the mixture is thickened and glossy, about 30 seconds.


Off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.


Strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.

Note on straining: This is key step because it will ensure that your finished pastry cream will be silky smooth with no lumps or bumps.


Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.


Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series tomorrow where I’ll show you how to make pâte à choux dough that will morph into wonderfully light eclairs and cream puffs that we will fill with the pastry cream.

Now tell me: What is your favorite recipe that includes pastry cream?

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103 Responses to “How to Make Pastry Cream”

Comment Pages 1 2
  1. Mireya on August 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Yum, yum, yum! Can’t wait for part ii! My favorite recipe with pastry cream definitely has to be cream puffs!


  2. BAKING is my ZeN on August 18, 2009 at 11:46 am

    This has been on my agenda since last month…need to give it a try! Wonderful photos. Thanks!


  3. John on August 18, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    You can also pasteurize eggs yourself by heating the eggs to 150 degrees for 5 minutes. I use a frothing thermometer to maintain the temp exactly since 150 is optimal frothing temp too. If you overheat the eggs they will cook a bit near the shell. Since pastry cream only uses the yolks it isn’t a problem. Use the left over egg whites for an egg white omelet.


  4. John on August 18, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    My favorite recipe that includes pastry cream is orange surprise. Cut the top 1/4 from a large orange. Carefully remove the orange flesh with a tablespoon being careful not to puncture the shell. I like to cut a crinkle design in the “rim” of the orange shell. Remove some orange segments from the flesh and mix with pasty cream and a bit of whipped cream to lighten it. Fill shell to within 1/4 inch of rim. Pipe meringue onto the orange shell and then bake at 400 (I put the orange onto a ramekin to keep it upright) until the meringue is lightly browned. Serve garnished with a couple of orange leaves (not edible). I like this because it uses the whole egg: the yolks for the pastry cream and the whites for the meringue.


  5. Shelly (cookies and cups) on August 18, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Thank you for this…I have wanted to give pastry cream a try, but like you, I have heard horror stories ans was a little scerred 😉
    Anyway, you have now just made it doable for me~ thanks!


  6. Mary Ann on August 18, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    I love this post!
    I am not sure if I have a favorite recipe that uses pastry cream, but I made a lemon/ginger flavored pastry cream that was really delicious and put it in pistachio tart shells.


  7. Danielle on August 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    great demonstrative pictures. maybe someday I’ll get enough never to try this…looks doable and very yummy.


  8. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Mary Ann – a lemon/ginger pastry cream in pistachio tarts sounds to die for!!!


  9. Natalie on August 18, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Yum! I love pastry cream, its so sweet, creamy and versatile. I always add a touch of vanilla bean paste. I bet this post will help a lot of first time pastry cream makers!!


  10. Jill on August 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Hello! I’m a recent follower of your blog and this is my first time commenting, because I have to thank you for this tutorial! Pastry cream vexes me so! The first (and, admittedly, only) time I made it, it curdled a bit on me (maybe I cooked it too long?) and then never thickened up. It tasted good, but the end result was a soupy mess when I tried to use it in a tart. Do you have any secrets for how to make sure it thickens properly, or do you just go by feel?


  11. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Jill – Welcome to Brown Eyed Baker, great to have you here!

    To make sure it thickens properly, I always use medium heat and constant whisking (my arm gets tired!). It usually hits the right thickness when two or three big bubbles pop on the surface and it stops looking frothy and shifts to being more shiny. At that point I usually remove the pan from the heat and whisk a few more times before adding the butter and vanilla. Sometimes it’s inevitable to have a few curdled pieces on the bottom of the pan due to the heat, but that’s what makes the straining step so important. I also make sure to do it when I make ice cream using egg-based custard as well. It catches all of those little bits and makes the cream silky smooth.

    I hope that helps! Please let me know if you have any other questions!


  12. bakingmomma on August 18, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I have always been intimidated to try this. But after this post. I think I will give it a try. Thanks for sharing.


  13. Pam on August 18, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    OMG, those are SO scrumptious looking!


  14. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    John – Thanks so much for the tip on pasteurizing the eggs at home! I will definitely remember that!


  15. Katie on August 18, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Thank you so much for this!


  16. lcwhitty on August 18, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    great post…love the step-by-step with photos. Can’t wait to try this one. Question: what is the phonetic spelling of pâte à choux? Would be nice to pronounce it correctly when trying to impress my official tasters.


  17. Michael Gilmore on August 18, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    Thanks for putting this together. Looks so much less daunting that way that you detailed it out. I don’t really do pastries and these CIA cookbook scared me a plenty from trying, but your steps encourage me to give pastry cream a try. Thanks again for sharing. One question: if I wanted to use whole milk could I build it up with pectin or gelatin?


    • Uri on March 20th, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      I hope you did not use the Gelatin, then you are making Bavarian Cream and not Pastry cream. I have used 2% milk before in different pastry creams, and they work the same, the taste of course is just a little different, since it is milk. So just try using the whole milk, and it should be fine


  18. Becky on August 18, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Okay I am addicted to pastry cream, I love custard eclairs and was just thinking I need to find a recipe for good pastry cream and then you posted this. I am so excited to try your recipe! And your cream puffs at the top look delicious!


  19. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    lcwhitty – pâte à choux is pronounced paht-ah-SHOO. Hope your taste testers enjoy!


  20. Michelle on August 18, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    Michael – It’s great to hear that this post has encouraged you to try pastry cream again! I have never used pectin or gelatin to thicken whole milk, so I unfortunately can’t give you a concrete answer on it, but I suspect that just using whole milk should be an okay substitution for the half-and-half. It just may take a bit longer to thicken.

    If anyone has any experience using pectin or gelatin, please feel free to chime in!


  21. Kerstin on August 19, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Yay for another tutorial! I love all the helpful pictures, your pastry cream looks perfect!


  22. HoneyB on August 19, 2009 at 6:23 am

    Yum! I love cream puffs. I think they are probably my favorite dessert ever!


  23. linda on August 19, 2009 at 6:55 am

    thanks brown eyed baker! this is WONDERFUL!!


  24. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) on August 19, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I LOVE that whisk!! Where is it from?? And thanks for the awesome tutorial, I’ve made pastry creme before, but this is a nice reference point!


  25. Michelle on August 19, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Hi Avanika – That whisk is from The Pampered Chef. It’s great, I love it!


  26. Kendra on August 19, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    Awesome pictures and demo. How helpful!


  27. Bette on August 20, 2009 at 10:35 am

    IT IS NOT POSSIBLE to pasteurize eggs at home. Please see the attached article. You may be heating the outside of the egg, but you will not kill pathogens in yolk.


  28. Jesse on August 20, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Bette is right. In fact, you may be heating the yolk enough to encourage bacterial growth instead of killing it. Most bacteria thrive in warm, moist places. I wouldn’t attempt this at home.


  29. Tracey on August 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    What a fun post! Like you, I always strain pastry creams and custards – you can never be too careful :)


  30. Kristen on August 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

    So, it is 9:47am and I am now craving eclairs! This is a great tutorial!


  31. Chris on September 3, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Recipe? I could just eat it with a spoon.


  32. Paul J. on September 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Never made this before turned out very tasteee! I am wondering if you combine the cornstarch with a little of the half and half , making a slurry before adding it may reduce the lumps enough you would not have to strain?


    • Uri on March 20th, 2012 at 11:32 pm

      The straining is not usually for lumps of corn starch, but egg that may have curdled while you heated the cream


  33. Michelle on September 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    So glad that you enjoyed this! I’m not sure how a slurry would work since I never really experience any lumps in the pastry cream; the straining is more to remove any bits of cooked cream that gets stuck to the sides or bottom of the pan. If you try the slurry definitely let me know how it turns out!


  34. Meesh on October 22, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Profiteroles, thats what I like to fill with pastry cream as well as Cannoli! Thanks and keep up the great work!



  35. stan on November 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

    what if half-and-half?????:D



  36. Michelle on November 24, 2009 at 2:55 pm


    Half and half is sold in the United States and has a consistency between heavy cream and whole milk, hence the “half and half”. If you are unable to find it where you live, you could substitute by using heavy cream for half of the quantity and whole milk for the other half.


  37. Pastry Student on January 9, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Michelle, the traditional pastry cream recipe uses whole milk, not half and half (half cream half milk). To answer Michael’s question…do NOT use pectin or gelatin! Pectin will never thicken this as there is no acid which pectin requires. Gelatin is going to give you the wrong texture, especially if you use too much. Think of this as a pudding or custard. Also, I would recommend using a wooden spoon instead of a whisk here. A whisk will incorporate too much air.


  38. Laura on February 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you so much! I tried making pastry cream before in a Boston Cream Pie for my boyfriend’s family – but had one of those horror stories of scrambled eggs in the cream :-/ but thanks to this – I finally made it perfectly smooth and creamy. It was a lot easier than I thought! Thanks again!


  39. CH on March 18, 2010 at 2:44 am

    hihi! what is half and half?


  40. jeannette on April 28, 2010 at 9:37 am

    Can a cake filled with pastry cream and fresh strawberries be frozen? I plan to ice the cake with real whipped cream. Make it today Wed and serve it Sat. Thank you for your help.


  41. Michelle on April 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Jeannette,

    I don’t know that I would freeze the cake filled and frosted. I don’t think the pastry cream and whipped cream icing would hold up very well. I would recommend baking the cake today, wrapping and freezing it. And then you could make the pastry cream and refrigerate it (making sure to press the plastic wrap against the top of the cream so it doesn’t form a skin in the refrigerator). You could even make the whipped cream frosting the night before and refrigerate it. Then I would assemble and frost the cake the day that you plan to serve it (in this case, Saturday).


  42. Thao on June 7, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Mine is still liquidy. Any advice? Did I do something wrong? Please help!!


    • Michelle on June 18th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

      Hi Thao – Did you change any of the ingredients or amounts? If not, you should be heating the cream over medium heat (nothing lower) and whisking constantly. It can take 1-2 minutes but will always end up with bubbles popping on the surface and getting thick and shiny. Patience is key. Let me know how it goes the second time around.


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  46. Baking is my Zen on July 6, 2010 at 9:17 am

    I linked your Pastry Cream tutorial in my July 4th post.
    It is a great tutorial. Thanks!

    Carmen of Baking is my Zen


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  48. nasheta on November 11, 2010 at 4:28 am

    Hi michelle

    I just came across your blog and find your tutorials extremely helpful! I am in South africa and have never heard of “half and half”. Pls could you explain what that is?



    • Michelle on November 14th, 2010 at 8:27 pm

      Hi Nasheta, Half and half is a mix of whole milk and heavy cream. You can substitute half whole milk and half heavy cream.


      • nasheta on November 15th, 2010 at 1:46 am

        thank u so much :)


  49. Kat on May 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Can you tell me how much this makes? I need to fill 8 mini tarts. Do you think this would be enough or should I double the recipe and have some left over?



    • Michelle on May 26th, 2011 at 8:10 pm

      Hi Kat, I actually do not remember the yield (and am away from home and my cookbooks right now!). It’s hard to say without knowing how large the mini tarts are, but I would probably double it just to be safe and then use any leftover for other yummy things :)


  50. Christine on September 9, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for an easy to make, and fantastically Tasty Pastry Cream Recipe! I Loved it, and the directions were great! Thanks again, and my Croquembouche Is coming out Wonderfully, which is what I’m making the Cream Puffs For! :-) Thanks again!


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