Why It Works
- A pastry cream base gives the crème légère sweetness and structure.
- A ratio of two parts pastry cream to one part whipped cream by volume yields an airy, smooth crème légère.
Once you’ve become comfortable with the technique for making pastry cream, opportunities abound for the versatile baker’s staple. You can use it as a filling for cream puffs, éclairs, fruit tarts, and cakes, but you can also use it as a base for spin-off creams, like crème chiboust (pastry cream plus meringue), crème mousseline (pastry cream with the addition of whipped butter), and this velvety crème légère—pastry cream lightened with whipped cream.
The process consists of three simple steps: stirring chilled pastry cream until smooth, separately whipping heavy cream to fluffy peaks, and gently folding the two together. While there’s no standard ratio, we've found the sweet spot to be two parts pastry cream to one part whipped cream (by volume), which yields a balanced crème légère with a subtle sweetness and an airy, mousse-like texture.
Similar to pastry cream, crème légère has many uses. You can substitute it in many recipes that call for pastry cream, as in the ones mentioned above. Additionally, it can be piped onto cupcakes, layered in a trifle, dished up in a fool, or even savored on its own as a standalone dessert—scooped into parfait dishes and served plain or topped with whatever toppings you desire, such as toasted nuts or fresh fruit.
In a large bowl and using a flexible spatula or whisk, stir the pastry cream until it resembles a creamy paste.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk heavy cream on medium-high speed until fluffy and thick, about 2 to 3 minutes. (Alternatively, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk heavy cream by hand until thick peaks form).
Using a flexible spatula, stir about one-quarter of the whipped cream into the pastry cream until it's completely incorporated, to lighten it. Gently but thoroughly fold in the remaining whipped cream, taking care not to deflate the mixture, until no visible whipped cream remains and mixture is homogeneous. Use immediately.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Crème légère can be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 3 days.