Crème légère is a wonderful blend of pastry cream with whipped cream that makes the perfect filling for eclairs, cream puffs, tarts, millefeuille and so much more.
You have almost certainly tried it as it is simply a lighter and airier version of pastry cream. Crème légère translated from French means “light cream”. If you find pastry cream slightly denser than you would like or you just realized you won’t have enough pastry cream to fill all your choux, add some whipped cream and you’re done!
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Delicious: This cream tastes absolutely amazing and isn’t hard to make.
- Basic ingredients: No need to make a trip to the store! You probably already have all the ingredients.
- Perfect for any occasion: Crème légère can be used as a filling in countless desserts. Keep it simple or make it fancy! Your choice!
- Customizable: Crème légère is richer than whipped cream and lighter than pastry cream. How rich or how light it should be is totally up to you! You can adjust the amount of whipped cream added to get the perfect cream.
How to make Crème Légère
Crème légère is composed of two elements: pastry cream and whipped cream. Let’s briefly walk through the process:
- Prepare the pastry cream and chill it for 2 hours.
- Whip the heavy cream to medium-stiff peaks.
- Whisk the pastry cream then gently fold in the whipped cream.
- Fill your pastries and enjoy!
- Milk: You’ll need milk for the pastry cream. It’s best to use whole milk, for optimal flavor and texture.
- Heavy cream: French pastry cream (crème pâtissière) usually calls for milk only. But I like to replace part of the milk with heavy cream, for more richness and a slightly thicker cream. We’ll also be whipping some heavy cream to lighten the pastry cream. Use cold heavy cream with a fat content of at least 35% or you’ll have trouble whipping it into stiff peaks.
- Egg yolks: To thicken the pastry cream but also to add flavor, color and richness.
- Sugar: White granulated sugar, to sweeten the pastry cream. You can use more or less depending on the desired sweetness.
- Flour/cornstarch: I like to use a combination of both, to thicken the cream.
- Butter: A little bit of unsalted butter, for richness and a softer, smoother cream. The butter will also thicken the cream a little and cool it down faster since we’ll be adding it cold.
- Flavoring: Vanilla extract to flavor the cream.
Adding Whipped Cream To Pastry Cream
How much whipped cream to add depends on how light you want your cream to be. The more whipped cream you use, the lighter and airier your cream will be.
Since you won’t be using any gelatin to stabilize the crème légère, the heavy cream should be whipped until medium-stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip it though. The peaks formed shouldn’t be very stiff since you need to be able to incorporate it into the pastry cream.
In case you missed it, we previously discussed all about whipped cream when we were making chantilly for our profiteroles. We saw what type of cream to use and what happens when you whip it.
Okay, time to make crème légère!
- Sift together the flour and cornstarch through a fine-mesh sieve set over a small bowl. Set aside.
- Pour the milk, heavy cream and part of the sugar (about a third) in a small pot. Heat over medium-high heat until just simmering.
- In the meantime, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining sugar in a medium-sized bowl until combined.
Whisk as soon as you add the sugar to the egg yolks or you will “cook” the eggs. The sugar will absorb the water present in the egg yolks. The proteins in the egg yolks will find themselves closer together and will form bonds, leaving you with clumps.
- Add the flour mixture and whisk once more to combine.
- Remove the hot liquids from the heat and gradually pour over the egg mixture, whisking constantly. You don’t have to pour all the liquids if you don’t have enough space in your bowl. You can pour about half or just enough to dilute the eggs and raise their temperature.
Tempering the eggs: If you add the egg mixture straight into the pot, the eggs will be exposed to a high temperature too quickly and will curdle. To prevent this, it’s best to slowly raise the temperature of the eggs by gradually adding the hot liquids.
- Return the mixture to the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep whisking to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat if needed.
- Once the foam subsides and the cream starts to thicken, keep an eye out for bubbles forming. When this happens, keep heating for another 2 minutes to fully cook the starch and get rid of any starchy taste. Remove from the heat.
- Add the cold butter and vanilla extract and whisk until the butter has completely melted and the cream is smooth. Pour the cream into a wide bowl to obtain a thin layer. This will ensure the cream cools down quickly.
Tip: If you notice lumps in the pastry cream, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl.
- Place a piece of parchment paper or cling film straight onto the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or until set.
- In a cold bowl, using a whisk or a hand mixer, whip the cold heavy cream to medium-stiff peaks. When you hold the whisk up, the cream should form a peak that holds its shape. Stop as soon as you get stiff peaks to avoid overwhipping the cream. Note: The quantity is quite small so you can do this step with a whisk. You’ll be less likely to overwhip the cream. If using a hand-mixer, start mixing on low speed and gradually increase it to medium-high.
Making whipped cream: The heavy cream will initially get foamy, then slightly thicker but still loose. You’ll then start seeing the whisk trail in the cream as you are whipping. Peaks formed will initially melt back onto themselves. Finally, the cream will be thick, and the peaks will hold when you lift the whisk. Your whipped cream is ready. Time to add the pastry cream.
- Remove the pastry cream from the refrigerator and whisk it until smooth. The pastry cream will look thick and dense when you take it out of the fridge so you have to loosen it a little (by whisking) before adding the whipped cream.
- Whisk in about a tablespoon of whipped cream. You don’t need to be extra gentle at this step. You are just trying to lighten the pastry cream a little more.
- Gently fold the remaining whipped cream into the pastry cream in 2-3 more additions, being careful not to deflate the cream. Stop as soon as you no longer see streaks of cream. You don’t want to deflate the whipped cream so use a spatula or a metal spoon and gently move it from the middle of the bowl towards the bottom and then up the sides. Rotate the bowl and do the same just until the cream is combined.
- Fill your pastries and enjoy!
This cream is quite easy to make and tastes delicious. But occasionally it can be a bit runnier than desired. Let’s quickly do some troubleshooting.
Runny Crème Légère
The pastry cream wasn’t thick enough
The pastry cream should be firm enough before you add the whipped cream. We have previously discussed in detail what could cause runny pastry cream. But the most likely reason is that it was undercooked. Bring it to a boil and keep cooking it for 2 more minutes before removing it from the heat. Using low fat products or not enough thickener (flour/cornstarch) would also result in a thinner pastry cream.
The heavy cream wasn’t whipped properly
Whip the cream until medium-stiff peaks form and don’t use heavy cream with a butterfat content lower than 35%. If the peaks don’t hold their shape you will most likely end up with a runny crème légère.
The whipped cream was added to hot pastry cream
The heat will deflate the whipped cream so make sure your pastry cream is cold before combining the two components.
The crème légère was stirred too much
When combining the pastry cream and whipped cream, stop as soon as you no longer see streaks of whipped cream. If you stir it for too long (or even if you pipe it), you might deflate the cream.
Stored for too long
Crème légère does not contain any gelatin and should ideally be used the day it was made.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
They are both made of pastry cream that is lightened with whipped cream. But the crème diplomate also contains gelatin which makes it a better choice when you are looking for a more stable cream that will hold its shape well.
Crème légère can be used as a substitute for pastry cream whenever firmness is not required. It is wonderful as a filling in choux buns, éclairs, tarts, millefeuille or even on its own.
Since crème légère does not contain gelatin, the air bubbles created when whipping the heavy cream will not hold well and the cream will lose its airiness quickly. You can prepare, however, the pastry cream in advance and chill it, well covered, for up to 2 days. When you are ready to serve (or eat!) your dessert, whip the cold heavy cream and fold it into the pastry cream.
And you’re done! You’ve just made a fantastic filling! Go on, taste it! Pretty good isn’t it?!
This post was originally published on January 25, 2021. I updated it with new pictures and more information.