Classic Vanilla Pastry Cream (with tons of flavor variations!)

Pastry cream... smooth, luscious pastry cream. This rich, thick, creamy custard is easily made from a mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, cornstarch or flour. I like to use half & half in place of milk, only the yolks  and add a pinch of salt, some butter and vanilla extract to really amp up the flavor for an extra rich pastry cream!

Pastry cream makes the perfect filling for cakes, pies, tarts, cream puffs and pastries. It pairs perfectly with fresh juicy fruit, crisp buttery pastry shells or layers of fluffy tender cake. You can get creative and add in things like flavored liqueurs, chocolate, espresso powder, flavored extracts and fruit purees to create a custom gourmet flavored pastry cream to compliment any dessert! After it has cooled and set, you can even fold in some whipped cream for an even lighter pastry cream topping, filling or fruit dip! 

Vanilla Pastry Cream

  • 2 cups half & half
  • 1/3 cup + 1/4 cup granulated white sugar, divided
  • pinch salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Flavor Variations
    • Flavored: Add 1/4 t.- 1/2 t. flavor extract of your choice: coconut, almond, mint, etc. (add in with vanilla extract)
    • Adult: 1 tablespoon flavored liqueur (add in with vanilla extract)
    • Chocolate: 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (add in with cornstarch)
    • Cinnamon: 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (add in with vanilla extract)
    • Cappuccino/Mocha: 1 tablespoon espresso powder/instant coffee granules, may combine with cocoa (add in with the half & half)
    • Citrus: zest and juice from 1/2-1 whole lemon, lime, orange, etc. (add in with vanilla extract)
    • Berry/Fruity: 1/3 cup seedless fruit puree or preserves of your choice: raspberry, strawberry, etc. (add in with vanilla extract)
    • Extra Light & Fluffy: 1/2-1 cup whipped cream (fold into cooled pastry cream)

Bring the half-and-half, 1/3 cup of sugar and salt to a simmer over medium/high heat, in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup sugar for about 45 seconds.

Once the half-and-half mixture has reached a simmer, slowly whisk half of it in to the egg yolk mixture to temper the yolks so they don't "cook" when you put them in the hot pot. Then, slowly whisk the tempered yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking vigorously, until nice and thick, and a few bubbles burst on the surface, about 30 seconds. 

Remove from heat and let cool a minute. Whisk in butter and vanilla. If there are any lumps, remove them with a spoon, or strain the pastry cream into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve or strainer. Press a layer of plastic wrap directly on to the surface of your pastry cream (this will prevent a layer of skin from forming on top) and refrigerate until cold and set, at least 3 hours or up to 2 days.

I love using this stuff to make my Fresh Fruit Tart