Basic Vanilla Pastry Cream

Cream puffs
Cream puffs with basic vanilla pastry cream Diana Rattray
Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 25 mins
Servings: 10 servings

This pastry cream is flavorful and a very easy recipe to prepare. Just have ice water in the sink ready to cool the custard quickly. 

Use this pastry cream as a filling for layer cakes, cream puffs or eclairs, or use it to fill a sponge cake roll or cream-filled doughnuts.


  • 3 large eggs (the yolks)
  • 3 cups milk (or use part half-and-half for a richer custard)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (granulated)
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Steps to Make It

  1. Have about 1 to 2 inches of ice water in the sink or a large container (large enough to put the medium saucepan in when the custard is done).

  2. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth. Gradually add the milk,  whisking constantly, until well blended.

  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir with the whisk to blend thoroughly. Whisk in about 1/2 cup of the milk mixture and stir until smooth. Gradually whisk in the remaining milk mixture until thoroughly blended.

  4. Put the pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture and it begins to boil. Let it boil for 1 minute, continuing to stir constantly.

  5. Immediately place the pan in sink or container with the ice water. Stir frequently as the mixture cools. Stir in the vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste.

  6. Press a sheet of plastic wrap onto the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator to chill thoroughly. 

  7. The recipe makes about 3 1/2 cups of pastry cream.

  8. Use it to fill cream puffs, filled doughnuts, cakes, cake rolls, or other desserts.

Recipe Variations

  • Lemon - Add the juice and zest of 1 small lemon along with the vanilla extract.
  • Vanilla Bean - Reduce the vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste.
  • Chocolate - Add 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder to the sugar and cornstarch mixture OR stir 3 ounces of melted semisweet chocolate into the hot pastry cream just before you take it off the burner.
  • Coffee - To the milk, add 1 tablespoon of espresso powder or instant coffee granules.
  • Strawberry, Blueberry, or Raspberry - Add about 1/3 cup of seedless raspberry jam, blueberry jam, or strawberry jam along with the vanilla. 
  • Other Flavorings - Add along with the vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon of almond, coconut, or mint flavoring.