Creamy Desserts: Pots de Crème, Panna Cottas, Custards and Puddings


I have a friend, Mary, who adores everything creamy. While I will wax euphoric about the contrasting chewy and crunchy textures in a dacquoise torte, she swoons at the first bite of a custard, cream, crème or pudding.  Here is a primer on those smooth-as-silk desserts, as not all creamy desserts are the same. With this info, you will be able to get the perfect creamy fix for your palate.


If you are in the U.K., then the word “pudding” is used to denote dessert – most any dessert! But here, I am concerned with the old-fashioned American-style puddings. These puddings, whether they are chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch or even fruit-based, are thickened with cornstarch or a similar thickener and cooked on top of the stove. Some are enriched with eggs or egg yolks, but most just rely on the thickener and as such, they have a thicker mouth-feel than baked custards and can also taste thickened or floury to the discerning palate, especially if they are not cooked enough after the thickener is added. They tend to be homespun and have nostalgic connections, as in commercially prepared pudding cups or cafeteria pudding, although the homemade versions step those up a notch for sure!


Again, we have an international difference of approach here. In parts of Europe, custard is a custard sauce, but the custards on Bakepedia are the creamy dessert concoctions that are egg-based and baked in the oven. A crème brûlée is a type of custard. Many custards are baked in individual ramekins set in a water bath for gentle cooking. This approach yields a very smooth custard, as the low temperatures and the water bath protect the eggs from being overcooked. Flan and crème caramel are other examples.

Crème brûlée

This very popular baked custard is usually 100% heavy cream and is further enriched with either egg yolks, whole eggs or a combination of both. It is very rich, due to the cream factor, and will coat the tongue heavily – a quality you might like or might not. We like to make crème brûlée in shallow ramekins so that there will be a larger proportion of crunchy caramelized sugar on top.

Pots de crème

white pots de cremem cups with stand

This classic French dessert is typically chocolate, but can be found in other flavors as well, such as caramel. It usually uses part heavy cream and part milk, making the custard lighter in dairy than the equivalent chocolate version of a crème brûlée, but in this instance, the chocolate is what will shine through. This is what we turn to when we want the most direct, creamy chocolate experience. Try our Chocolate Pots de Crème. You can make pots de crème in most any small ramekin, but there are specialized pots de crème cups that have their own lids. These protect the custard during baking, ensuring a very smooth result. You can find beautiful modern day and vintage pots de crème cups from, such as the Limoges set in our top image. Below is another set from their site depicting a simpler yet no less beautiful white set with an unusual vertical stand. You will want to make desserts just to use your cups!

Pastry cream

This is usually a building block recipe. Pastry cream can be used as the base of fruit tarts, or inside éclairs and cream puffs and Napoleons. It is rich with egg or egg yolk, can be made with milk, cream or a combination and can be thickened with either flour or cornstarch.

Panna cotta

This is an uncooked, creamy dessert set with gelatin. It can be made with milk or buttermilk and sometimes cream is used, but it is usually a leaner custard depending on milk and gelatin, as opposed to cream and eggs/egg yolks. It is often unmolded, but can be served in the glasses, ramekins or containers in which it is made.

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