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Really mad right now, why do my pastry cream fail?!

I am really bitter right now, because every recipe of pasty cream don't make sense and even so, my version never turns out the same.

Even though I don't let the hot milk boil, as soon as you whisk it down with the rest, it foams a lot. Then when I place everything on the stove to let it cook, it stays like a foamy mess for like fifteen minutes. Most likely because I don't know what the hell to do because every recipe is unclear

Do I start from no heat up to a boil then reduce the heat?
Do I start from very hot temperature and reduce the heat to low?
Do I whisk furiously or slowly?

I especially like how several recipe tells you to place the pan on low heat and whisk until it starts boiling, this makes no sense to me, how exactly do you bring something to a boil on low heat? Is that even possible? It sure don't seem possible to me at least.

And how long do you even cook the thing for??? One video said a mere 6 seconds, one recipe said 5-7 minutes until it becomes like pudding and so on. I made one batch (filled with ANGEERRRR) that I cooked on low heat for ten minutes and then 15 whole minutes on high heat and during those, I and someone else, took turns furiously whisking like crazy and yet it became no where near pudding.

Here's one of the recipes I tried:
5 extra-large egg yolks, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups scalded milk

(Below is added after the stuff turns very thick like pudding)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon Cognac

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon heavy cream

"In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch.

With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, Cognac, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold."


Sorry for sounding mad but I am mad because I've tried several times now, in different ways and the stuff just won't get thick enough. It sure don't help that pretty much every recipe seem to say different stuff. So guys, in a very desperate cry for help, I came here! :(

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  1. You aren't the only one with a pastry cream problem

    1. One factor may be the cornstarch. Cooking cornstarch too long and at high heat causes it to lose its thickening ability. Rose Levy Beranbaum's pastry cream recipe calls for two whole eggs, three tablespoons cornstarch, 2 cups half-and-half and 1/2 cup sugar. Beranbaum has you whisk together the eggs and cornstarch, then add 1/4 cup of the (cold) half-and-half. She instructs you to bring the remaining half and half and sugar to a full boil, temper the egg mixture with about 2 tablespoons of the hot half-and-half, and strain the egg mixture into a bowl. Bring the half-and-half back to a boil and quickly add all of the egg mixture, whisking vigorously. Continue to whisk vigorously for 20 to 30 seconds, then remove from heat.

      So Beranbaum's recipe with cornstarch calls for only 20 to 30 seconds cooking, which for a cornstarch-thickened cream sounds about right to me.

      Otherwise the ingredients you list are more or less what I use but I use flour. (5 or 6 yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 2 cups milk). Once the scalded milk is whisked into the beaten yolks and the mixture is strained into a clean saucepan, it should be beaten or whisked (whisk is my preference for avoiding lumps) vigorously over low to medium heat until it boils. "Boils" doesn't mean a full rolling boil, just lots of bubbles. Once it has reached this stage, continue to whisk for about two minutes, or until it has become thick.

      Six seconds is absurd, five to seven minutes total (for flour-thickened cream) once the egg/sugar/milk mixture is returned to the saucepan sounds about right - three to five minutes over medium heat to reach a boil and two more minutes to thicken. Low heat isn't necessary, just be sure to whisk constantly at medium heat.

      Unless you have a need for a gluten-free pastry cream, try it with flour to see if the problems you experience are indeed due to cornstarch. My understanding is that cornstarch should not be boiled. If you must use cornstarch, follow Beranbaum's method.

      4 Replies
      1. re: janniecooks

        According to Cookwise, it's the high amylopectin starches (e.g. arrowroot) that gell at lower temperature, and thin when overheated. Cornstarch is high amylose, and thickens just below boiling, just like flour. Also the Argo cornstarch box says 'bring to boil; boil for 1 minute".

        I just tested a solution of 2T cornstarch and 2 c water; I let it boil for 5 minutes, with regular stirring, and did not get any thinning.

        I wonder whether this poster, or the other one, has experience with ordinary cornstarch based pudding (vanilla, chocolate).

        1. re: paulj

          Hmmmm . . . After reading your reply I did a little research. I was surprised to learn that cornstarch has twice the thickening power as flour. So based on that and your point, clearly my assumption re: cornstarch is off-base. So what would explain lottobear's problem?

          I also read that cornstarch loses thickening potency in acidic mixtures, so perhaps the acidity of the egg yolks causes the cornstarch to fail?

          1. re: janniecooks

            Then lemon meringue pie would fail.
            I must admit my pasrty cream is thickened with flour an eggs. It is milk that destabilizes at high temperatures.

        2. re: janniecooks

          I'd probably temper half of the hot liquid into the egg mix, though - 2 tablespoons of liquid seems the bare minimum - if that- to bring the eggs up to temperature.

          (I don't use cornstarch in my pastry cream, fwiw, I use a recipe which uses flour and have never, ever tasted the flour in the final product.)

        3. don't despair. it takes a little patience. the first few times i made pastry cream i used this recipe because it seemed easy to follow and doesn't require a whole lot of equipment i don't have: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...
          i haven't failed yet and now feel comfortable enough to start experimenting. i keep the temp low and don't let the milk come to a wild rolling boil, just a low low simmer. i'm still slow at it so it gives me a little more time to work with it without worrying about scalding, burning, or giant lumps.

          1. I use this recipe and have always had great results: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/pastry-c...

            1. As far as technique, I think your recipe sounds fine. It is possible to bring something to a boil over low heat, yes. The recipe is telling you that because it's easy to scorch the mixture if you're not stirring it constantly. The point of the stirring/whisking constantly is the same, and to keep the mixture moving enough that it heats evenly. There is really no timeframe that matters here--slower is better so that it isn't so prone to scorching and won't be ruined my a minute of inattention--but the point is to get it evenly hot and to the boiling point.
              I cook for one minute once it comes to a boil.

              It will get quite a bit thicker once it cools...
              If it's truly not thick enough at that point, you could increase the cornstarch. Also omit the T. of heavy cream after cooking would help.

              It's reheating cornstarch that's a problem, not overheating it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: splatgirl

                I learned as a kid, when trying to make scrambled eggs, that the 'low' setting on the stove dial might not be what a cookbook author means by 'low heat'. When making this dish, it probably helps to have experience making other sauces, including ones using a roux and a cornstarch slurry.

              2. Bring the milk to a full boil. Forget the stand mixer, just whisk the eggs, sugar and starch together by hand in a bowl big enough to hold everything. Whisk in hot milk, return to pan on medium-high heat. Return to a boil over medium high, whisking constantly.

                It should look thick, but remember it will be thicker once cool, so don't expect it to be super stiff in the pan.

                1. Bring to a soft, rolling boil. Boil one minute. Take off the heat. If the mixture isn't thick then, you need to cook it longer. If it is thick, but then thins out after you cool it, you cooked it too long.

                  1. A few thoughts...

                    There are many pastry cream recipes where some recipes use flour as a thickener while other recipes use cornstarch.

                    1) Are you sure you're measuring 3 T of cornstarch? Your results seem like you're using less than the amount called out. I haven't had problems with cornstarch.

                    2) The electric mixer seems like overkill to beat the eggs, sugar and cornstarch together. I just use a whisk.

                    3) When you add hot scaled milk, you need to temper the egg mixture with a couple tablespoons before really adding the rest of the milk. Basiclly, you whisk in a few spoonfuls of hot milk before slowly adding the rest.

                    4) Heating the mixture... You want the mixture to eventually come to a boil. How fast the mixture comes to boil varies from recipe to recipe. Some recipes call for medium-high heat while others call for a lower setting, such as, medium or medium low. The recipe you posted is unique to me since it calls for a very low heat. My preference would be to heat a medium to medium low so the mixture comes to a boil a little faster (within 5 minutes). If the heat is too high, the eggs will scramble.

                    5) I believe a cornstarch slurry comes to full thickeness when the mixture comes to a boil.

                    Do I start from no heat up to a boil then reduce the heat?
                    Do I start from very hot temperature and reduce the heat to low?
                    > I keep the heat at a constant setting

                    Do I whisk furiously or slowly?
                    > I keep the mixture moving. I wouldn't say it's slow, but I wouldn't say it's furious either.
                    I probably start out with one whisk stroke per second when the mixture really starts boiling I'm probably up to 10 strokes per 5 seconds. To me furious is 20 strokes or faster per 5 seconds.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: dave_c

                      The idea with the mixer might be to ensure that the eggs are well beaten and smooth. Some recipes call for straining the eggs, to remove the filliments. I bet a few seconds with an immersion blender would beat the eggs well enough.