pastry cream; our very own mother sauce

pastry cream

If you read my last column for Lucky Peach, you should be ready to make proud, hollow cream puff shells. But what of their filling! Worry no more, the follow up to that piece discusses pastry cream, the classic companion for pate a choux. You may have seen pastry cream in a fruit tart, or hiding inside a boston cream pie. But left to set, pastry cream becomes our very own mother sauce! And a myriad of things can be folded into this stable, rich custard. Read on! 


As its name suggests, pastry cream is the cream in the pastry world—and that’s saying something for a world so heavily populated with creamy things. But you’d be forgiven for not knowing about it: classic American desserts—cookies, brownies, fruit pies—are largely pastry-cream free.

At its most basic level, pastry cream is a boiled custard similar to vanilla pudding. The custard itself contains egg yolks, milk and/or cream, and sugar, and is often finished by whisking in butter. This mixture is stabilized by the inclusion of flour and starch, which makes it thick and malleable, and prevents the egg from curdling during the cooking process.

To begin making pastry cream, the milk and cream are heated to a boil along with any inclusion meant to perfume the cream. (Vanilla is most common, but teas, spices, and fresh herbs are also popular.) The hot cream is then poured gently into a mixture of whipped egg, sugar, and starch. Transferred back to a pot on the stove, pastry cream is cooked to a boil. The key: whisking constantly to ensure a smooth custard. After a two-minute boil, butter is whisked in and the pastry cream is ready for its destiny.

When it’s still hot, pastry cream takes to a variety of mix-ins: chocolate, coffee, and rum are all popular. Or, you can pour it into tart shells immediately after boiling, let it cool, and then top it with fruit for a classic fruit tart.

Pastry cream’s greatest trick, however, is when it is left to cool in a pan. From there, it becomes the mother sauce to an endless variety of desserts……..

To continue reading, head on over to Lucky Peach! Find out what you can transform pastry cream into! Click the link here. 

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