Custard Sauce Vs. Pastry Cream: What's The Difference?

Custard sauce and pastry cream seem similar enough at first glance. For starters, both technically fall under the umbrella of types of custard – the result of combining milk or cream with eggs and sugar. Both have a sweet flavor and velvety texture that can be used to punch up all kinds of desserts. Don't be fooled, though; custard sauce and pastry cream differ in both composition and consistency. For this reason, the two ingredients can rarely act as substitutes for one another when cooking.

Let's begin with custard sauce. This variety of custard, also known as créme anglaise, is a quintessentially British dish famous for its runny consistency. This consistency is the result of using only eggs, cream, sugar, and sometimes vanilla in its creation. Without any additional ingredients to add stability to the sauce, it remains entirely liquid. 

Pastry cream, on the other hand, is thought to be French in origin. It has a considerably thicker consistency, allowing it to be piped into or spread onto pastries and other dishes. This is because, while its base is the same as custard sauce, it relies on the addition of cornstarch to reach completion. The cornstarch helps to add body to the cream, allowing it to have more structure than a sauce.

When to use custard sauce or pastry cream

Both of these culinary powerhouses make for a delicious addition to your repertoire, but due to the fact that they have such distinct textures — with pastry cream being stiff and full-bodied and custard sauce being, well, a sauce — you'll want to pay attention to their applications in baking and dessert-making in order to ensure you're using the right one for your recipe. You will likely find yourself using one more than the other depending on your preferences toward different baked goods.

Custard sauce works as a luscious accompaniment to any dessert that needs more moisture or simply a wow factor. Pour it over a slice of cake or pie, add it into a bowl with freshly cut fruit, or drizzle it over sorbet as you would chocolate sauce. Pastry cream, on the other hand, is typically used as a filling or spread. Pipe it into the center of cream puffs, dollop it into a crust as the base of a tart, or spoon it onto a croissant for an extra decadent snack.