Step-By-Step: How to Make Pastry Cream (Crema pasticcera)

  • 01 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Start With the Yolks

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Start with the yolks.
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Start with the yolks. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Crema pasticcera, pastry cream, is one of the basic ingredients used in many Italian (and French) pastries and cakes: it's the creamy, custardy filling of layer cakes or pastries such as millefoglie, in tarts, or the cream filling you find in morning pastries such as cornetti (Italian-style croissants). In short, Italian desserts wouldn't be quite the same without it.

    Making crema pasticcera does require care, because it can curdle as it thickens, leading to an unpleasant lumpty texture. 

    C...MORErema pasticcera is more of a procedure than a recipe: Depending upon what you are making you start with more or fewer yolks, and the proportions of the other ingredients follow. To make about 3 cups (750 ml) of pastry cream, which will be enough to fill a layer cake or make a small Zuppa Inglese (English trifle), you will need:

    • 1 pint (2 cups/500 ml) whole milk
    • 1 vanilla bean, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 6 very fresh egg yolks
    • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • A pinch of fine sea salt

    (In the photos, a smaller portion was made, starting with 2 egg yolks.)

    Continue to 2 of 8 below.
  • 02 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Add The Sugar

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Lightly beat, and add sugar.
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Lightly beat, and add sugar. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Lightly whisk the yolks, and then add the sugar. While you are doing this, set all but 1/2 cup of the milk to warm over a slow burner with the vanilla bean, if you're using it (if using extract instead, add it later, once the milk is warmed).

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  • 03 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Whisk A Little More

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Mix Well
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Mix Well. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    The egg and sugar mixture should turn a bit paler in color.

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  • 04 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Add the Flour

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Add Flour
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Add Flour. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Sift in the flour, whisking gently, and making sure that no lumps form.

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  • 05 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Whisk in The Milk

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Whisk in Milk
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Whisk in Milk. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Whisk in the 1/2 cup of unheated milk, keeping a wary eye for lumps. Next, remove and discard the vanilla bean (or add the extract), and slowly whisk the heated milk into the egg-and-milk mixture.

    Continue to 6 of 8 below.
  • 06 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: Gently Heat It

    Making Crema Pasticcera: Heat Gently
    Making Crema Pasticcera: Heat Gently. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Set the pot over low heat stirring gently, until it barely reaches a simmer.

    Continue to 7 of 8 below.
  • 07 of 08

    How To Make Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: It's Ready!

    Making Crema Pasticcera: It has Thickened, and is Ready
    Making Crema Pasticcera: It has Thickened, and is Ready. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    Count to 120 while stirring constantly and it's done.

    Note: Depending on your eggs and milk, it may thicken to the proper consistency before it simmers. If it reaches roughly the consistency of commercially prepared plain yogurt of the sort that will pour from the cup, it's done.
     

    Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool; place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming as it cools. 

    As a final note, if you cover the milk after heating it and let it...MORE sit, covered, for 10 minutes, it will absorb more flavor from the vanilla bean. Also, you can, depending on what you are going to use the cream for, flavor it with other things, for example, 2 coffee beans or the zest of 1/2 lemon.

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  • 08 of 08

    Crema Pasticcera, or Pastry Cream: A Few Ideas for Using It

    What to Do with Crema Pasticcera? Make an Apple Tart!
    What to Do with Crema Pasticcera? Make an Apple Tart!. © Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com

    In this case Elisabetta had a sheet of puff pastry and made an apple tart: She lined a tart mold with the dough, spread the pastry cream over it, covered it with sliced apple, raisins and walnuts, dusted all with brown sugar, and baked it until lightly browned in a 400 F (200 C) oven.

    Some other options:

    • Make Zuppa Inglese, a delightfully custardy English trifle
    • Slip crema pasticcera between the layers of a layer cake
    • Fill an orangey Schiacciata alla Fiorentina with crema Pasticcera
    • Use crema...MORE pasticcera in making a larger crostata, or as the base of an elegant fresh fruit crostata.
    • Combine crema pasticcera with whipped cream to make Crema Chantilly