Joe’s Standard Pastry Cream

This is the pastry cream you want for things like Napoleons, layer cake filling, or other applications where the pastry cream must stand up on its own and not run. You can make this a variety of ways depending on how rich and/or sweet you like it. You can make it with all milk, 50% half-and-half or 50% cream as listed below. For a less sweet version cut the sugar down to 6 ounces. It goes like this:

the seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1 pint whole milk
1 pint heavy cream
8 ounces sugar (1 cup plus one tablespoon)
12 egg yolks
1.75 ounces (scant 1/2 cup) cornstarch

Start by combining the seeds of the vanilla bean with the milk in a medium saucepan and bring it to the boil.

Give it a good whisk every so often.

Meanwhile, combine the yolks and sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whip.

Whip on high for about three minutes until a thick ribbon drips off the whip.

With the mixer running on medium-low, add the cornstarch in a steady stream. Scrape the bowl to make sure it’s all incorporated.

Now add the hot milk in a steady stream.

When it’s completely incorporated, pour the whole works back into the saucepan…

…and whisking steadily, bring the mixture up to boiling. Let it bubble — not violently — for about 45 seconds to a minute. There’ll be a little foam on the top, gently stir that in.

Pour it into a bowl or onto a sheet pan, and allow it to cool for about ten minutes.

Lay on some plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Cool the pastry cream (if you’re using a bowl, placing it in an ice bath works the best) for about fifteen minutes, then put it in the refrigerator. A half recipe will cool down enough in half an hour to be placed in the fridge on its own.

25 thoughts on “Joe’s Standard Pastry Cream”

  1. Hi Joe,
    I’m making Paris Brest for my family tomorrow and I’m unsure of how much of the pastry cream, praline paste, and chantilly cream (all recipes on your site) to make for your choux recipe. I’d truly appreciate your input.

    Thank you!

  2. Hi Joe!
    Do you think this recipe is still soft enough to make a diplomat cream? I’m trying to work out using diplomat for cake frosting (making a nicer version of a 1970’s BHG recipe involving jell-o pudding folded with whipped cream). So the thicker the better, I’d think.
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Jo!

      It definitely is soft enough for that purpose. In fact I mostly use this one for diplomat cream since I generally want some body (for a tart Tropézienne or bee sting cake). It would make a good cake frosting, I’d think, though make sure to use stabilized whipped cream, especially if you plan to hold it for very long. A little gelatin on the whipped cream side of the equation will help it stay firm — and stuck to the sides of the cake!

      Good luck and let me know how the experiment goes. It’s inspired!

      – Joe

    2. Hey Jo!

      I made this recently and found that my formula was off…it was indeed too thick, however it still blended into a nice diplomat cream that stood up well on a hot afternoon. In fact I think I will remember to add the full 2.25 ounces of cornstarch when I need something like that. I made a second batch with 1.75 ounces of cornstarch and it’s much more in the zone.

      Thanks for your question on this! Cheers,

      – Joe

  3. Hey, joe. If i want to add some chocolate in this which one is better? Bar chocolate or cocoa powder? And how should i add it?

    1. Hey Nate!

      You can do either one depending on the result you like better. Cocoa powder can be whisked into the milk mixture while it’s on the stove. That produces the same texture cream with a nice chocolate flavor. Alternately you can fold in some melted bar chocolate after you take the finished cream off the heat at the end of the process. The extra cocoa butter will make it both richer and firmer.

      Have fun!

      – Joe

      1. Hey Joe. I used cocoa powder and the result is quite satisfying. It was chocolatey enough to satisfy my mothers love of chocolate. Going to use this for cream puffs filling along with plain ol’ vanilla and green tea. Thanks Joe.

        1. Great news, Nate! So glad it worked so well. If momma is satisfied you can sleep well tonight! 😉


          – Joe

  4. Hey, Joe! I’m making a marjolaine for my birthday, and I was just curious about how much pastry cream this makes. Is one batch enough for your marjolaine recipe? Thanks!

    1. Hey Becky!

      Yes, one recipe is what you need, though you can leave out the vanilla bean since there are so many there flavors happening. No need to go to the expense if the subtleties are just going to be obliterated. Add a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract instead!

      Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  5. Hi Joe! If I want to use vanilla bean paste that has the seeds in it instead of scraping an actual bean, how much should I add? Thanks for pointing me to this recipe and answering all these questions so quickly. You are great!

    1. Hello Xiaolu!

      It’s my great pleasure to be of help! Ask me anything any time. To make the substitution you’ll want to use about 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.

      Have fun!

      – Joe

  6. Joe,
    Can you give us the scoop on freezing pastry cream? Can you? Should you? Thanks!!

    1. Hey Gabriella!

      Unfortunately, because pastry cream is a custard, you can’t freeze it. I struggle with that from time to time when I only need a little. Then I just make some éclairs! Cheers,

      – Joe

  7. Normally you don’t want to freeze custards, but that’s another of the advantages of a firm, starchy pastry cream. The corn starch acts as a buffer, keeping any ice crystals that form from breaking the custard.

    Using corn starch then would not help in keeping it from icing?

  8. Would a half recipe of this be enough for a 9″ pie—such as Banana Cream or Vanilla Cream? If so, how much vanilla extract should be subbed for the bean?

    Just wondering: About what temperature should the milk reach before it’s removed from the heat? Also, I’ve noticed a lot of recipes for Pastry Cream call for butter. Is there a reason it’s not included in your recipe?

    1. Hey Andrew! Half a recipe should do it for a cream pie base, yes. And a good rule of thumb for a vanilla bean substitution is 2 teaspoons of extract.

      Let me know how it goes!

      – Joe

  9. How long will it keep in the fridge? Every time I’ve tried to find out, I’ve forgotten to check it until it’s wayyyyyy past date.

    1. Hey Richard!

      I’d say a week at the outside, more like five days. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, moisture starts to pool up after a few days in the fridge. Resist tasting it with your finger or double-dipping with a spoon because even a residue of saliva can vastly increase the rate at which the custard breaks down. Enzymes donchaknow!


      – Joe

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