You can never have too much creme patissiere. If a recipe calls for it, it’s better to make a little more than too little, it eats great, just by itself. The name already signifies that, both in french as well as in Dutch the name stands for cream of the pastry chef. In other words, a proper cream, a little more fancy than just any whipped cream. The English word is derived from the French word, which is crème pâtissière. Along the way, the spelling of the word seems to have changed and all those extra signs above the letters seem to have disappeared.
This creme can be used in a lot of desserts, we used it to fill up choux pastry, making little profiteroles. But plenty of pies use it as well and as said at the start, it even eats well just so! The creme patissiere uses quite a lot of interesting thickening tricks, both flour and eggs are put into action. If done right, a creme patissiere is easy to make, but if you don’t understand the recipe well, it’s easy to mess it up. So it’s time for some creme patissiere science!
What is creme patissiere?
As mentioned at the start a creme patissiere is the creme/cream of a pastry chef. It isn’t made with cream, instead, it’s an upgrade of milk by adding sugar, flour and eggs. Because it’s cooked it can be eaten cold without a problem and stored for several days, in the fridge.
The image below visualizes the process for making it. If you prefer a written recipe, look at the profiteroles recipe on our choux pastry post. Let’s dissect the recipe a little further and walk it through, step by step.
Step 1: heating the milk
The recipe starts by bringing milk to the boil. This is done for two reasons: the first is simple to warm up the milk, but it’s also a way to infuse flavours. You could add a vanilla pod here for instance which will give your creme patissiere a little more depth of flavour. The other reason is to speed up the processes in the next few steps. In those steps you’ll be heating up a mixture with egg, by pre-heating the mixture you don’t have to start from room temperature. Since bringing milk to a boil can be done quite quick, whereas the next heating step has to be done very gently, it is a time saver. But I’m sure no harm is done if you forget this step.
Step 2: mixing egg, sugar and flour
It may sound egg, but it can be pretty critical to your outcome, so make sure you do this step in the right order. First mix the egg and sugar, then mix in the flour. If you mix all three at the same time it’ll be very hard to get rid of all the flour clumps. Why? Well, egg only contains a very little amount of moisture, if you try mixing that with flour you’ll get a lot of lumps. Mixing sugar with the egg is easy since the sugar mixes easily with the liquid and might even dissolve slightly. By spreading out the moisture around the sugar, it is a lot easier to mix in the flour.
Step 3: mixing the egg mix with milk and heating it up
This is the essence of your creme patissiere! Slowly pour in the warm milk into the sugar + egg + flour mixture while whipping. Be sure to be whisking while pouring the milk in, especially when it’s hot. If you don’t do this you might overheat the egg locally, cause it to curdle. Once all lumps are gone you can pour in all the milk, that’ll be mixed in easily. Once mixed in,
Next step is heating up this mixture. By heating the mixture two things will happen. First of all, the egg proteins will coagulate, thickening up the mixture. If you heat the mixture up too quickly though, the proteins will curdle and the mixture will split. Second of all, the starch in the flour will absorb water and swell up. This will also thicken the mixture. It’s important to keep on stirring through the mixture while heating it slowly, if not, it will stick to the bottom and the uneven heating can cause curdling of the egg.
A simple trick to test whether your mix is ready is to take some of the mix on your spatula. Draw a line through with your finger. If the mixture doesn’t pour through the line, but instead stays at its plays, its ready. Don’t worry if it still looks a little thin, upon cooling down the mixture it will thicken up further. This is mainly due to the starch becoming tougher when cooled down.
A creme patissiere can be used for a lot of different recipes, it’s also jummy if you eat it just like that, with nothing else! But try to refrain yourselves from eating it when it’s warm, it definitely tastes better once it has cooled down and set completely. If you use it for making profiteroles: quickly stir through the creme once it’s cooled down and then either use a piping bag or a spoon to fill your choux pastry with this extra yumminess.
Cornstarch in your creme patissiere
On the internet there are a lot of recipes calling for corn starch instead of with regular flour (1) (2). Cornstarch has the same property as flour when heated, it can thicken a mixture which is why it’s often used. Using cornstarch instead of flour will change the flavour and texture of the final creme. I guess which you use will depend on your region, here in the Netherlands the use of corn starch is slightly less standard, so I use flour. But feel free to experiment. I would suggest starting by substituting the flour with corn starch on a 1:1 ratio, but am not exactly sure how it’ll work out.
Making creme patissiere with these tips should be easy peasy, good luck and let me know whether the tips helped you! Looking for a way to use it? Try out making choux pastry.