Crème Légère is a beautiful, lightened cream combining a classic Crème Pâtissière (French Pastry Cream) and whipped cream. What's not to love about a combination of both?!
This lightened pastry cream is a fantastic alternative when you want a cream lighter in texture than traditional pastry cream but with all the flavours of delicious custard.
Flavoured with vanilla, this lightly sweetened cream is so delicious that you can eat it by the spoon as a stand-alone dessert or top it with a compote, coulis or fresh fruit.
🌟 Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Uses basic ingredients. With only six ingredients needed, they are fridge or pantry staples that I'm sure you'll have on hand.
- Such a versatile cream. The flavour and texture of this cream is a step up from whipped cream. It's the fancy older sister that will elevate any dessert. The taste is rich, creamy and sweet. Simply divine.
- Simple to make. I desperately don't want you to be intimidated by making French pastry cream. If you follow my clear step-by-step instructions, you will see that each step is surprisingly easy.
❓What is Crème Légère?
Crème Légère, pronounced 'cre-me lay-jair', literally translates to 'lightened cream'. It's essentially made with Crème Pâtissière (French Pastry Cream), which is a thickened custard that's lightened by folding through whipped cream. That's it!
Some recipes call for Crème Chantilly (Sweetened whipped cream) to be folded through the pastry cream, but I prefer to use a simple whipped cream as the pastry cream is sweet enough.
NOTE: It isn't firm enough to hold weight, so I don't recommend using it as a cake filling unless using a buttercream damn. Equally, when piped it won't hold firm shapes. A crème diplomat is best for this application.
Walk past the windows of a pâtisserie in France, and you'll see rows of gleaming fruit tarts made with this style of cream.
🧾 Ingredients Needed
While the list is simple and short, there are a couple of pointers on the specific ingredients that you need to know.
- Eggs - Large egg yolks provide flavour and structure when cooked to the right consistency. 4 yolks is perfect when combined with the richness of the whipped cream, but feel free to add another yolk if you want an even richer custard.
- Milk - Whole milk is best over low-fat or skim milk, as it provides a richer, more well-rounded flavour due to its high fat content.
- Corn Flour - (cornstarch) is needed to thicken the pastry cream. It's perfect as it doesn't alter the flavour of the pastry cream, which plain flour tends to do.
- Cream - double (heavy) cream is whipped to a firm peak stage so that when folded through the pastry cream, it helps lighten it and provides structure. Go for double (heavy) rather than whipping cream as it has a better structure when whipped.
- Vanilla - this is the flavour that we want to taste predominantly. So use the caviar from a vanilla pod for a maximum, well-rounded flavour. You can use a teaspoon or two of vanilla bean paste as a substitute or vanilla extract at a push (I personally love to see all the little specks of vanilla beans throughout the cream).
- Butter - only a small amount is needed to add flavour, shine and richness.
Pastry cream is a fantastic cream to flavour with all sorts of ingredients. Once the cream is folded with the whipped cream, the flavour will carry through into the Crème Légère. Here are a few of my favourite flavourings you can use.
- Chocolate: Make a chocolate pastry cream by adding a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder with the cornflour. Then add 100g chopped dark chocolate in with the butter and whisk it all together
- Coffee: Add two tablespoons of espresso powder or coffee granules into the hot milk. You may need to add powdered sugar to the whipped cream if the coffee makes the pastry cream too bitter.
- Tea-infused: My favourite is to infuse earl grey tea bags into the hot milk. The tea flavour is subtle and delicate. You can use any tea you like.
👩🏻🍳 How To Make Crème Légère
France has several well-known crèmes (creams) that are used to fill or top their pastries or desserts. Crème Pâtissiere (pastry cream) forms the backbone of many of these creams but also desserts such as crème brûlée, île flotante and even ice cream.
So commonly used in French baking, learning how to make French pastry cream successfully is a skill that has to be learnt! I'm here to show you how!
*Be sure to see the recipe card below for the full ingredients list & instructions!*
Make Pastry Cream
STEP 1. Heat the milk.
Heat the milk with the vanilla bean pod and caviar in a small heavy-based saucepan set over medium-high heat (Images 1). Heat the mixture until it's steaming, and some bubbles appear around the edges of the saucepan (Images 2).
Whatever you do, don't boil it!!! Keep the heat on low, and don't get impatient!
Once warmed sufficiently, turn the stovetop off. Set the milk aside for ten minutes to infuse further, then remove the vanilla pod.
STEP 2. Whisk eggs, sugar and cornflour.
In a separate bowl, add your egg yolks and sugar (Images 3). Whisk them together until thickened and pale. This takes about a minute, a little longer if done by hand.
TIP: Did you know that the sugar can dry out and 'burn' the egg yolks? So don't leave them in the bowl together for too long before whisking them.
Add in the cornflour and whisk until combined (Images 4). It will form quite a thick paste at this point.
STEP 3: Temper the eggs.
What does that mean? The milk mixture is warm, and if you add the eggs directly, it will scramble them. Disaster! So, we temper by adding the warm milk mixture to the eggs whilst continuously whisking, which brings the temperature down (Image 5).
STEP 4: Heat the custard cream.
Pour the mixture back into it the saucepan (Image 6) and set on low heat.
Carry on whisking whilst the custard heats and thickens. This can take a couple of minutes. As soon as you see a bubble in the custard (Image 7), you should heat it for another minute to ensure the yolks are cooked sufficiently, and then it's done (Image 8).
NOTE: Don't be impatient and turn the heat up, hoping the thickening will happen quicker. All you'll get is a split custard and bits of cooked egg.
STEP 5. Add in butter.
I recommend passing the mixture through a sieve to remove any possible lumps (Image 9). Then add the butter (Image 10) and whisk it in until fully melted and combined.
The butter adds a beautiful sheen to the cream but also richness. As it cools, it also helps the cream thicken.
STEP 6. Chill the pastry cream.
This can be done in two ways, slower or quicker method.
- A quicker method is to set the pastry cream bowl over a bowl of cold water and ice (Image 11). Whisk the cream whilst in the bowl set over the ice bath, and the ice bath will bring down the temperature quickly. Cover the pastry cream with plastic wrap that touches the surface (Image 12). Refrigerate the cream until it's cold.
- The slower method is to cover the cream straight after sieving, let it come to room temperature and then refrigerate.
TIP: The plastic wrap needs to touch the surface of the cream. This helps prevent a skin from forming.
Add Whipped Cream to Pastry Cream
STEP 7. Whip the cream.
Add the double (heavy) cream to a bowl and whisk until firm peaks (Image 13). You can do this by hand or with hand-held beaters. Careful not to over whisk otherwise, it will become grainy but make sure it is at firm peaks and not soft peaks.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
TIP: To avoid overwhipping when using a stand mixer or electric hand-held beaters, stop whisking when you reach the softly whipped stage. Then continue by hand using a whisk.
You have much more control and can see and feel when the cream is at the correct stage.
STEP 8. Combine the pastry cream and whipped cream together.
Once the pastry cream is cold, remove it from the fridge and give it a quick whisk to loosen up.
Add a quarter of whipped cream to the pastry cream (Image 14) and whisk until well combined (Image 15). It helps lighten up the cream ahead of the next addition.
Add in the remaining whipped cream and fold through with a rubber spatula (Image 16), being careful not to knock out any air from the whipped cream. Mix until you can no longer see the whipped cream.
And that's it- you've made Crème Légère - fantastic!!
Use it in all sorts of desserts like choux buns and éclairs, to top fruit tarts with or even add to a trifle.
💭 Recipe Pro Tips
- Stay with the custard at all times. Now is not the time to multitask as you can overcook the custard in a blink of an eye.
- Whisk the custard continuously when heating the custard. This prevents the mixture from catching on the bottom and heats it at a more even temperature.
- Keep the stove top temperature low when heating the custard to the point of bubbling. This reduces the risk of scrambling the eggs and creating a lumpy custard.
- Make sure the plastic wrap is in direct contact with the entire surface of the cream so that no skin can form.
📋 Recipe FAQs
Both these classic French creams are made with crème pâtissière (vanilla pastry cream) as the base. Crème Légère is a combination of crème pâtissière and whipped cream, which helps lighten it. Crème Diplomat, on the other hand, is crème pâtissière folded through with whipped cream and gelatin, which creates a more stable cream.
Three possible reasons spring to mind. Not enough corn flour was added to the whisked yolks and sugar. The custard wasn't cooked for long enough on the stovetop. Or the cream was whipped to a soft peak stage and not a firm peak.
❄️ Storage and Freezer Instructions
- To store: Crème légère can be stored in an air-tight container with a piece of plastic wrap touching its surface in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
- To freeze: I would not recommend freezing crème légère as it will lose its light texture once thawed.
🇫🇷 More French Recipes You'll Love
If you tried this Crème Légère recipe or any other recipe on my website, please let me know how you go in the comments below. I love hearing from you. Also, please leave a 🌟 star rating whilst you're there!
Crème Légère Recipe
- 480 ml whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 70 g granulated sugar
- 40 g cornflour (corn starch)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean pod, cut in half with the seeds scraped out., or 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 45 g unsalted butter, chopped, room temperature
- 240 ml double cream (heavy cream), cold
- Heat the milk. Combine milk, vanilla bean pod and vanilla caviar into a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until it begins to simmer and bubbles appear around the edge of the saucepan. Do not boil the milk. Set aside for ten minutes to infuse. Remove the vanilla bean pod.
- Whisk eggs and sugar. Whilst the milk is heating, place the yolks and sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk until thickened and pale. Add in cornflour and whisk until combined. It will form a thick paste.
- Temper the eggs. While whisking the yolks continuously, pour in the milk mixture in thin stream and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture straight back into the saucepan and return to low heat.
- Heat the custard. Whilst continuously whisking, heat the custard until it thickens. Once the custard starts to bubble, then heat for a further minute.
- Add in butter and cool pastry cream. Pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium-sized bowl. This will remove any egg lumps. Add the butter to the custard and whisk until melted and combined.
- Chill the pastry cream. Set the bowl over a water bath (a larger bowl filled with cold water and ice). Whisk the pastry cream until it cools, then place plastic wrap directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cooled.
- Whip the cream and fold through pastry cream. In a medium-sized bowl, whip the cream until firm peaks form. Remove the pastry cream from the fridge and give it a whisk to loosen up. Add in a ¼ of the whipped cream to the pastry cream and whisk until combined and the pastry cream is of a looser consistency. Add the remaining whipped cream and fold through with a rubber spatula. Refrigerate until needed.
All recipes are developed and tested in Metric grams. I strongly recommend that you bake using digital scales for a more accurate result. I have provided a conversion to US customary in the recipe but please note that I haven’t tested using this method.