Crema Pastelera (pastry cream) is one of the most popular creams used in making desserts. It’s perfect for filling or topping sweet treats like Bollo Paraguayo, fruit tarts, eclairs, mille-feuille, and profiteroles. The best part is it’s really easy to make with common ingredients you likely already have in your pantry – milk, eggs, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla extract.
Our Crema Pastelera recipe is just what you need to make your desserts extra special. For a super creamy and rich result, you can use whole milk with heavy cream or simply stick to whole milk for a high-fat content. And don’t forget to use a vanilla bean or good-quality vanilla extract to add delicious flavor and depth to the Crema Pastelera. With our recipe, you’ll have the perfect topping, filling, or dipping for all your sweet creations. Get ready to impress your friends and family with this delicious Crema Pastelera!
What is Crema Pastelera?
Crema Pastelera, also known as pastry cream, custard cream, or crème pâtissière, is a rich and creamy custard-like filling commonly used in various desserts and pastries. It is a fundamental component in many classic desserts and is widely used in European and Latin American cuisines.
The main ingredients used to make Crema Pastelera are milk, sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch (or sometimes flour), and vanilla. The preparation involves heating the milk and vanilla until it almost reaches a boiling point. Separately, a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch is whisked until smooth. The hot milk is then gradually added to the egg mixture while continuously stirring to avoid curdling. The combined mixture is then returned to the stove and cooked over low heat until it thickens into a smooth and velvety custard.
The end result is a luscious and sweet cream that can be used as a filling for pastries such as éclairs, cream puffs, tarts, and cakes. It can also be served as a base for other desserts like crème brûlée or used as a layer in trifles.
Crema Pastelera is versatile and can be flavored with different ingredients like chocolate, citrus zest, coffee, or even liqueurs to add various flavor profiles to the desserts it accompanies. It’s an essential and delicious component in many beloved sweets around the world.
Crema Pastelera Ingredients
Note: The full ingredients list is provided in the recipe card below.
- Whole milk: The main liquid component of the cream provides the creamy base and necessary moisture for the custard.
- Vanilla bean: Adds a delightful and aromatic flavor to the cream, enhancing its overall taste.
- Granulated sugar: Sweetens the cream, balancing the flavors.
- Cornstarch: Acts as a thickening agent, helping the cream achieve its smooth, creamy texture.
- Kosher salt: Enhances the flavor of the cream, bringing out the sweetness and other tastes.
- Large egg yolks: Egg yolks contribute to the richness and creaminess of the custard, adding a velvety texture and a golden color.
- Unsalted butter: Butter further enriches the cream, providing a silky texture and enhancing its overall mouthfeel.
Tools you’ll need
How to Make Crema Pastelera
Note: The full instructions are provided in the recipe card below.
In a medium stainless steel saucepan over medium heat, combine the whole milk and add half of the sugar. Include the vanilla bean along with the scraped seeds. If you’re using vanilla extract, you’ll add it later. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil while stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar and prevent the mixture from burning on the bottom of the pot. Be attentive during this process to avoid boiling over, adjusting the heat as needed.
While the milk mixture is heating up, prepare the egg yolk mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, salt, and the remaining granulated sugar until it becomes smooth and pale yellow. This process usually takes about 5 minutes. This step is crucial as it helps create a creamy and luscious Crema Pastelera.
Once the milk is just about to boil, remove the vanilla bean (if using) and slowly pour a small amount of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking continuously. This is called tempering, and it helps prevent curdling. Gradually pour the rest of the hot milk into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place it over medium heat. Cook the pastry cream, stirring constantly and vigorously with a whisk to prevent lumps and ensure even cooking. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil, and the whisk leaves a trail in it. This usually takes about 8 minutes. You want the pastry cream to reach a pudding-like consistency.
Once the pastry cream has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract to add flavor to the crema pastelera. Transfer the hot pastry cream to a clean nonreactive bowl or container and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the cream. This prevents a skin from forming on the surface.
Let the crema pastelera cool over an ice water bath or at room temperature for a few minutes, then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours before using. The cooling and chilling process will further thicken the pastry cream and enhance its texture.
Camila’s Tip: Use a nonreactive saucepan for Crema pastelera (pastry cream) to prevent off-flavors and discoloration.
- Whole milk: You can use other types of milk, such as low-fat milk or plant-based milk like almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk. Keep in mind that the fat content may affect the cream’s richness and texture.
- Vanilla bean: If you don’t have a vanilla bean, you can substitute it with 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. The flavor may be slightly different, but it will still provide a pleasant vanilla taste.
- Granulated sugar: You can replace granulated sugar with other sweeteners like caster sugar, brown sugar, or coconut sugar. The sweetness level may vary depending on the substitute used.
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch can be replaced with an equal amount of all-purpose flour to thicken the cream. Alternatively, you can use tapioca starch or arrowroot starch for a gluten-free option.
- Kosher salt: Any type of salt can be used as a substitute, such as table salt or sea salt. Just adjust the amount to your taste preference.
- Large egg yolks: If you don’t have enough egg yolks, you can use 3 large whole eggs instead. The custard will still set, but it may not be as creamy. To make it richer and tastier, just add 1 extra tablespoon of unsalted butter when using whole eggs. This simple trick will make your custard rich, glossy and delicious.
- Unsalted butter: If you don’t have unsalted butter, you can use salted butter, but be mindful of the additional salt content in the recipe.
Remember that while substitutions can be made, they may alter the final taste, texture, and overall quality of the Crema Pastelera. It’s essential to experiment and adjust to your preference. Additionally, if you have dietary restrictions or preferences, you can choose substitutes that align with your needs.
- Chocolate Crema Pastelera: Add cocoa powder or melted chocolate to the base recipe to create a luscious chocolate custard. Adjust the amount of cocoa/chocolate to your desired level of chocolate flavor. 👀👉Check out our Chocolate Pastry Cream Recipe.
- Citrus Crema Pastelera: Infuse the milk with citrus zest, such as lemon, orange, or lime, to add a refreshing citrusy twist to the cream.
- Coffee Crema Pastelera: Dissolve instant coffee or espresso powder in the milk before heating to create a delightful coffee-flavored cream.
- Almond Crema Pastelera: Use almond extract or ground almonds in the mixture to give the cream a nutty flavor profile.
- Coconut Crema Pastelera: Replace some or all of the milk with coconut milk and add shredded coconut for a tropical coconut-infused cream.
- Rum or Liquor Crema Pastelera: Add a splash of rum, brandy, or any other flavored liqueur to the custard for an adult twist.
- Fruit Crema Pastelera: Mix in pureed fruits like strawberries, raspberries, or bananas to create a fruity variation of the cream.
- Caramel Crema Pastelera: Incorporate caramel sauce or dulce de leche into the base cream for a rich and indulgent caramel-flavored custard.
- Spiced Crema Pastelera: Infuse the milk with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom for a warm and comforting flavor.
- Matcha Crema Pastelera: Stir in matcha green tea powder to create a vibrant and flavorful matcha custard.
These variations allow you to experiment with different flavors and tailor the Crema Pastelera to suit your taste preferences or complement specific desserts. Be creative and have fun exploring the endless possibilities!
How to Serve
Crema Pastelera is a versatile custard cream that can be served in various ways. Here are some common and delicious ways to enjoy and serve Crema Pastelera:
- Filling for Pastries: Crema Pastelera is a popular filling for various pastries like cream puffs, éclairs, churros, and Danish pastries. Simply pipe or spoon the cooled cream into the pastry shells for a delightful and creamy center.
- Topping for Cakes and Tarts: Spread Crema Pastelera over cakes or use it as a filling for tarts. It adds a smooth and luxurious layer, enhancing the overall taste and presentation of the dessert.
- Dessert Filling: Use Crema Pastelera as a layer in trifles or parfaits, alternating with fruits and cookies or cake to create a delicious layered dessert.
- Creamy Filling for Doughnuts: Fill doughnuts with Crema Pastelera for a creamy and sweet surprise inside the fluffy dough.
- Dip for Fresh Fruit: Serve Crema Pastelera as a dip for fresh fruit, such as strawberries, pineapple chunks, or banana slices, for a delightful and indulgent fruit dessert.
- Crêpe Filling: Spread Crema Pastelera on warm crêpes and roll them up for a delightful crêpe filling.
- Crème Brûlée: Use Crema Pastelera as a base for making crème brûlée by sprinkling sugar on top and caramelizing it with a kitchen torch.
- Pancake or Waffle Topping: Spread Crema Pastelera over pancakes or waffles as a delicious and creamy topping.
- Layered Desserts: Create layered desserts by alternating Crema Pastelera with other fillings, such as fruit compote, chocolate ganache, or whipped cream.
- Mille-Feuille: Assemble layers of puff pastry and Crema Pastelera to make a classic French dessert called Mille-Feuille (Napoleon pastry).
Remember that Crema Pastelera should be refrigerated if not used immediately and should be consumed within 3 days for the best taste and texture. The ways to serve it are limited only by your imagination, so feel free to get creative and enjoy this delectable custard cream in various desserts and treats!
How to Store
After preparing Crema Pastelera, cover the custard with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Then, allow it to cool at room temperature for a few minutes before storing it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Before using, whisk well to ensure a smooth and creamy consistency.
To make Crema Pastelera ahead of time, you can prepare it a day before it’s needed. After making the custard, cover the surface with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Let it cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to use it, whisk the custard well to ensure a smooth and creamy consistency.
How to Freeze
Crema Pastelera is not recommended to be frozen. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days to preserve its best taste and texture.
Tips for Making The Best Crema Pastelera
- Use Good-Quality Ingredients: Start with fresh and good-quality ingredients, including fresh milk, real vanilla bean, and good-quality egg yolks. Good-quality ingredients will contribute to a better taste and texture.
- Temper the Eggs: When combining the hot milk with the egg yolk mixture, do it slowly while whisking continuously. This process, known as tempering, prevents the eggs from curdling and ensures a smooth custard.
- Whisk Vigorously: Whisk the egg yolk mixture and the custard continuously and vigorously to avoid lumps and ensure a creamy consistency.
- Strain the Custard: After cooking the custard, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any potential lumps or cooked egg bits, ensuring a smooth texture.
- Control Heat: Be careful not to overcook the custard. Once it thickens to a creamy pudding consistency, remove it from the heat promptly to avoid curdling.
- Cover to Prevent Skin: Cover the surface of the Crema Pastelera with plastic wrap, ensuring it touches the custard to prevent a skin from forming.
- Cool Completely: Allow the Crema Pastelera to cool to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator. This helps it set properly and maintains its texture.
- Store Properly: Refrigerate the Crema Pastelera in an airtight container to prevent absorbing any unwanted odors and use it within 3 days for the best taste and quality.
- Whisk Before Using: Before using the crema pastelera, whisk it well to restore its smooth and creamy consistency, ensuring a delightful experience in your desserts.
- Experiment with Flavors: Feel free to experiment with different flavor variations, such as adding chocolate, coffee, or citrus zest, to create unique and delicious desserts.
Why is my Crema Pastelera too thin and runny?
There are a few reasons for this. It could be due to not cooking the pastry cream long enough, not using enough cornstarch, or not properly tempering the egg yolk mixture. Make sure to cook the mixture until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency and follow the recipe measurements accurately.
My Crema Pastelera has lumps. What did I do wrong?
Lumps can form if the egg yolk mixture is not whisked thoroughly or if the milk is added too quickly. To prevent lumps, whisk the egg yolk mixture until smooth and gradually pour the hot milk while whisking continuously.
Why does my Crema Pastelera taste eggy?
The pastry cream may taste eggy if the eggs are overcooked. To avoid this, make sure not to cook the mixture at too high of a temperature. Also, strain the pastry cream through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any cooked bits of egg, if needed.
My Crema Pastelera has a strange texture, like curdled or grainy. What caused this?
The mixture may have curdled due to overheating the eggs or not properly tempering them. To fix this, you can try blending the mixture with an immersion blender or a regular blender to smooth it out.
Can I fix a separated Crema Pastelera?
If your pastry cream has separated, it may be challenging to bring it back to its original smooth texture. However, you can try gently reheating the pastry cream and whisking it vigorously to see if it comes together again.
Why is my Crema Pastelera too sweet or not sweet enough?
Adjusting the sweetness is easy. If it’s too sweet, reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe next time. If it’s not sweet enough, you can add a little more sugar or use sweeter vanilla extract.
Can I use low-fat milk or substitutes for Crema Pastelera?
Using low-fat milk or substitutes may result in a less creamy and less rich pastry cream. For the best results, it’s recommended to stick to whole milk or use a combination of whole milk and heavy cream.
How do I fix an overly thick Crema Pastelera?
If your pastry cream turns out too thick, you can thin it out by adding a small amount of milk and whisking it until you achieve the desired consistency.
Can I use Crema Pastelera as a frosting for cakes?
It is not typically used as a cake frosting as it can be too soft and may not hold its shape. However, it can be used as a layer between cake layers for added flavor and moisture.
Can I make Crema Pastelera without eggs?
While eggs are a key ingredient, you can make a dairy-based version that doesn’t require eggs. You can also use vegan egg substitutes to make a vegan version of Crema Pastelera.
Can I use almond milk or other non-dairy milk for?
You can use non-dairy milk as a substitute for whole milk. However, the texture and flavor may be slightly different than if you used whole milk.
Can I use this recipe in savory dishes?
It is traditionally used in sweet dishes, but it can also be used in savory dishes as a filling for quiches or delicious tarts. Just omit the sugar and vanilla and season the cream with salt, pepper, or other savory seasonings.
My Crema Pastelera has a scorched taste. What went wrong?
A scorched taste can occur if the mixture is cooked at too high heat or left on the stove for too long without stirring. To avoid this, always cook the pastry cream over medium heat and stir it constantly to prevent the bottom from burning.
Why does my Crema Pastelera have a lumpy texture after refrigeration?
Lumps can sometimes form in the pastry cream after refrigeration due to the cornstarch setting. To fix this, gently reheat the pastry cream on the stovetop while stirring continuously until it becomes smooth and creamy again.
Can I use flour instead of cornstarch for thickening Crema Pastelera?
While cornstarch is commonly used for thickening pastry cream, you can use all-purpose flour as a substitute. However, keep in mind that the texture might be slightly different, and flour may not provide the same level of smoothness as cornstarch.
My Crema Pastelera is too bland. How can I enhance the flavor?
To enhance the flavor of your pastry cream, you can add a pinch of salt to balance the sweetness or increase the amount of vanilla extract used. Additionally, you can infuse the milk with citrus zest, cinnamon, or other flavorings before adding it to the egg yolk mixture.
Can I store Crema Pastelera in the freezer for future use?
As mentioned before, freezing Crema Pastelera is not recommended as it can affect its texture and consistency negatively. It’s best to refrigerate the pastry cream and use it within 3 days for the best results.
My Crema Pastelera turned out too thin even after cooking it for a long time. How can I thicken it?
If your pastry cream remains thin, you can try making a slurry with cornstarch and a small amount of cold milk or water. Then, add the slurry to the hot pastry cream while whisking vigorously. Continue heating until it thickens to the desired consistency.
Can I use Crema Pastelera as a base for other flavored creams or custards?
Absolutely! Crema Pastelera serves as a great base for creating different flavored creams. You can experiment by adding melted chocolate, coffee, or other extracts to create delightful variations of the pastry cream.
Watch How to Make Crema Pastelera
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How to Make Crema Pastelera
- 500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
- 1 whole vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out with a small spoon or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 100 g (½ cup) granulated sugar divided
- 30 g (¼ cup) cornstarch
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 large egg yolks or 3 large whole eggs
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into small pieces
- In a medium stainless steel saucepan over medium heat, combine the whole milk and add half of the sugar. Include the vanilla bean along with the scraped seeds. If you're using vanilla extract, you'll add it later. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil while stirring continuously to dissolve the sugar and prevent the mixture from burning on the bottom of the pot. Be attentive during this process to avoid boiling over, adjusting the heat as needed.
- While the milk mixture is heating up, prepare the egg yolk mixture. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, salt, and the remaining granulated sugar until it becomes smooth and pale yellow. This process usually takes about 5 minutes. This step is crucial as it helps create a creamy and luscious Crema Pastelera.
- Once the milk is just about to boil, remove the vanilla bean (if using) and slowly pour a small amount of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture while whisking continuously. This is called tempering, and it helps prevent curdling. Gradually pour the rest of the hot milk into the bowl with the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place it over medium heat. Cook the pastry cream, stirring constantly and vigorously with a whisk to prevent lumps and ensure even cooking. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens and comes to a gentle boil, and the whisk leaves a trail in it. This usually takes about 8 minutes. You want the pastry cream to reach a pudding-like consistency.
- Once the pastry cream has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract to add flavor to the crema pastelera. Transfer the hot pastry cream to a clean nonreactive bowl or container and cover it with plastic wrap, making sure the plastic touches the surface of the cream. This prevents a skin from forming on the surface.
- Let the crema pastelera cool over an ice water bath or at room temperature for a few minutes, then refrigerate it for at least 2 hours before using. The cooling and chilling process will further thicken the pastry cream and enhance its texture.
- Camila's Tip: Use a nonreactive saucepan for Crema pastelera (pastry cream) to prevent off-flavors and discoloration.
All nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.