Cremeschnitten (or Cremeschnitte) are Austrian cream slices comprised of crisp puff pastry sandwiched around a thick layer of vanilla custard. There are many similar sweets throughout the world, but these decadent pastries are the Austrian/Viennese version.
2teaspoonsvanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
3tablespoons(40 grams / 1.5 ounces) unsalted buttercut into cubes
Powdered (confectioners’ / icing) sugaras needed for dusting
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Arrange puff pastry sheets on parchment paper lined baking sheets (roll out to adjust dimensions if needed) and prick the tops of both sheets with the tines of a fork. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, switching pans from top to bottom and back to front about 15 minutes in. Set aside to cool.
Line the bottom and sides of a pan approximately the same size or slightly larger than your baked puff pastry rectangle with parchment paper. Make sure there is some overhang you can later use to lift out the cream slices.
Place one cooled puff pastry sheet in the bottom. Use a serrated knife to cut the other puff pastry sheet into 8 rectangles or 16 squares (or whatever works for the size/dimensions of your puff pastry sheets). Rectangles are a more traditional shape for cremeschnitte in Austria, but other countries with similar recipes sometimes make squares. Leave the cut rectangles/squares in the same arrangement and set aside. Pre-cutting them now will make it easier to portion your cream slices later.
In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the egg whites until soft peaks form (they should be thick and foamy but not very stiff). Add ½ cup (100 grams / 3.2 ounces) sugar and continue beating until thick and shiny. It should hold a stiff peak and be glossy like meringue. Set aside.
In a large saucepan or small pot beat the egg yolks together, then slowly add the milk beating until smooth. Add the remaining ¾ cup (150 grams / 5.3 ounces) sugar and cornstarch and whisk until smooth.
Heat the pan over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture is very thick and easily coats the back of a spoon and/or reaches a temperature of 180°F/80°C with an instant read thermometer, about 10 to 15 minutes total.
Remove from the heat, whisk in vanilla and butter until smooth, then use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixture into a medium mixing bowl. In a couple additions, fold the meringue into the hot custard until no streaks remain.
Pour the custard over the baked puff pastry set in the pan and smooth out the top. Arrange the cut pieces of baked puff pastry over the top. Chill the assembled cremeschnitte in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours to fully set.
Carefully lift the cremeschnitte out of the pan using the parchment paper overhang and transfer to a cutting board (alternatively you can cut while it remains in the pan but I find it easier to do it this way). Using the pre-cut top layer of pastry as a guide, use a sharp knife to cut through the layers until the entire pan has been sliced into pieces. Carefully wipe off the blade between cuts for super clean slices. Dust the top generously with powdered (confectioners’) sugar and serve.
This is best served the day it is made or at the most within 1 day of assembly. On subsequent days the pastry will begin to soften. Store leftover slices covered with foil in the refrigerator. Putting it in a plastic container will soften the pastry more rapidly.
There are many brands of puff pastry available on the market. Plan to use an all-butter puff pastry for optimal flavor (meaning it's made with butter and not shortening or other fats). My usual go-to brand is Trader Joe's. Their puff pastry sheets are about 10 ½ inches by 12 ½ inches each, but will shrink by about 1 inch in both directions after baking. The dimensions of different brands will vary, but this recipe will work regardless. Just plan to use a pan for assembly that will fit your baked pastry, or trim the pastry as necessary to fit.
For optimal convenience, use pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste to flavor the custard. I love vanilla bean paste because it's easy, lasts longer than fresh vanilla beans, and you still get the gorgeous specks of vanilla bean throughout your custard!
Over the years I have made pastry cream with all different types of milk, from low-fat to whole. Although whole milk is always your best bet, you can make this with whatever kind of milk you have on hand.
As the puff pastry bakes, if it puffs up too much or unevenly you can remedy this quite easily. Partway through baking, use a rubber spatula to carefully and gently press down on the overly inflated spots to help deflate a bit before returning to the oven. Make sure your hands aren't too close as the hot steam can burn you as it is released from the pastry. Do this within the first half of baking before the pastry fully sets and crisps.
Please note that the egg whites in this recipe are not fully cooked. Although the custard is hot, it doesn't actually cook the meringue by traditional standards. Take the same precautions you would if eating eggs with runny yolks, traditional French chocolate mousse, or blowtorched meringue on pie. All of which are considered undercooked eggs, and consumption of which may increase the risk of foodborne illness.