How to Make Italian Pastry Cream (Crema pasticcera)

A cornetto (croissant) filled with pastry cream
A cornetto (croissant) filled with pastry cream. studio box/Getty Images
  • 25 mins
  • Prep: 5 mins,
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Yield: 3 Cups (Serves 8)
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Crema pasticcera, pastry cream, is one of the basic ingredients used in many Italian 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.

Crema pasticcera is not difficult to make, though it does require care and attention so that it doesnt' curdle. . Fernanda Gosetti, author of Il Dolcissimo, suggests that you use a copper pot because it conducts heat better, and adds that if you make crema pasticcera frequently, you should invest in a round-bottomed pot because it's easier to whisk the cream inside of it. She also notes that the crema should be transferred to a bowl as soon as it's ready, because it will continue to cook in the hot pot.

The quantities given below can easily be increased or reduced. This recipe makes 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).

What else can you use it for? Well, between layers of sponge cake, for example, or under a layer of fresh fruit in a crostata. Or as icing on a cake, dusted with a little confectioner's sugar. Or in a pudding.

[Edited by Danette St. Onge]

What You'll 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

How to Make It

Set all but 1/2 cup of the milk to warm over low heat with the vanilla bean (if using extract, add it later).

Meanwhile, lightly whisk the yolks in a medium mixing bowl to break them. Sift the flour into the bowl, whisking gently, and making sure that no lumps form. Whisk in the sugar too, and then the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, being careful to eliminate any lumps.

By this time, the milk on the stove will be about ready to boil.

Remove and discard the vanilla bean (or add the extract) and slowly whisk the warmed milk into the egg mixture. Return the cream to the pot and continue cooking over low heat, stirring gently, until it barely reaches a simmer. 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 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.