Italian Pastry Cream

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Crema Pasticcera, or Italian pastry cream, is an absolute must-know recipe if you love sweets! Tarts, cakes, pastries, and even fresh fruits are instantly leveled up with just a dollop of this rich, creamy custard.

titled collage for italian pastry cream recipe


Dessert recipes can seem intimidating at first, but I promise that this pastry cream recipe is way easier than you think!

It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a professional baker to enjoy some scrumptious sweets all on your own.

measured ingredients for italian pastry cream recipe

Crema Pasticcera

So, what is pastry cream? Well, it’s an incredibly rich and thick dessert topping, very much like a custard.

I use vanilla flavoring in my crema pasticcera, but it’s also common to see lemon or other fruit flavored creams.

The recipe is easy to customize, so I encourage you to try out some other flavorings and see what you like!

Be sure to take your time in making it, and you’ll have luscious, delicate pastry cream in less than 30 minutes!

Italian desserts tend to be subtle and delicate. For your next treat, make some wedding cookies or cream cake!

eggs in a bowl ready to be whisked

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

Unlike some other “fancy” desserts, there isn’t a super long list of ingredients to make this dessert topping!

  • Milk – I like to use either whole or 2% milk, but you can really use any kind. Even alternatives like almond or soy!
  • Heavy Whipping Cream – You don’t need to use heavy cream if you don’t want to — just use regular whole milk!

    But I like using it because it makes the crema pasticcera so rich.
  • Egg Yolks – It’s important for these to be room temperature! It’s less likely that the mixture will curdle.
  • Vanilla Extract – If you want a very vanilla flavored Italian pastry cream, then use vanilla bean as well!

    Slice the vanilla bean from top to bottom and scrape into the extract, letting it simmer with the milk to fully bring out the flavor. 
adding sugar to whisked eggs in bowl

Pastry Cream Recipe Notes

Stay loyal to the recipe. 

There aren’t a lot of ingredients or tricky steps to making this recipe, but it’s crucial to follow each step to a T.

Heat, sift, and sieve slowly each step of the way to guarantee silky, smooth custard.

Keep stirring! 

Keep the milk moving while it heats and simmers, and also while pouring the rest of the custard ingredients into the milk.

Constant whisking will keep it from burning to the bottom of the pan.

If you mess up and burn the bottom, you can either sieve out the burnt chunks or start again from the beginning.

Have fun – experiment with other flavors! 

This pastry cream recipe makes a vanilla flavored custard, but you don’t need to stop there! Add lemon, orange, or lime zest for a citrusy custard.

Or, if you want something a bit more rich and slightly more bitter, you can mix in some cocoa powder for a chocolate custard. 

whisking italian cream pastry in sauce pan

Storing and Freezing

In an airtight container, your custard will keep for up to 5 days.

I like to keep mine in containers with larger openings, like mason jars. This way, I can easily spoon the cream into pastry bags when I need it!

You can freeze the topping, too! You’ll just need to move it to the fridge to thaw before you can use it.

bowl of italian pastry cream

Crema Pasticcera FAQ

What is the name of Italian pastry cream?

Crema pasticcera! It’s used in all sorts of Italian tarts, cakes, and pastries.

What is the difference between custard and Italian custard?

Both custards are creamy and delicious, but have slightly different consistencies. 

Italian crema pasticcera is particularly thick, whereas many other custards are a bit runnier.

Why is pastry cream boiled?

Well, it isn’t quite boiled — just almost boiled. You want to heat the milk until it’s just steaming before removing from the heat.

The hot milk will help the eggs set, which is important to ensuring a thick, firm custard.

donuts filled with italian pastry cream

Enjoy!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours. 

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closeup of italian pastry cream recipe

Other Italian Dessert Recipes


silky smooth crema Pasticcera on spoon

Crema Pasticcera (Italian Pastry Cream)

Donna Elick
Crema Pasticcera is a decadent Italian pastry cream with a hint of vanilla. This recipe makes the perfect topping for pastries and cakes!
4 stars from 1 review
Tried this recipe?Please comment and review!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Method Stovetop
Servings 6 makes about 3 cups

Ingredients
 

  • 1 cup milk, divided (preferably whole or 2%)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar, for a lightly sweet custard, only add 1/2 cup sugar
  • 5 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
 

  • In a medium saucepan, whisk to combine ½ cup milk, 1 cup heavy cream and sugar.
    Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until milk begins to steam and is almost boiling, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together egg yolks, flour, and cornstarch with remaining ½ cup milk, until smooth.
  • To prevent the eggs from cooking, first whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk mixture into the bowl of eggs.
    Pour the tempered egg mixture through a fine mesh strainer (this will remove any lumps of cooked egg), back into the saucepan with the simmering milk. Stir to incorporate.
  • Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Simmer for one minute while mixture thickens and then remove from heat.
  • Strain custard through a fine mesh strainer into a metal or glass bowl set over an ice bath. Stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
    Press a piece of plastic wrap against the top of the pastry cream (so it doesn't develop a skin). Refrigerate until completely cool, about 2-3 hours.
  • Store in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within 5 days.

Donna’s Notes

  1. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it is very important to follow the instructions for sifting, straining, and heating slowly to produce a silky, smooth pastry cream..
  2. Adding salted butter to the finished pastry cream adds creaminess and a touch of salt (this is why our recipe doesn’t call for salt. If you use unsalted butter, add 1/8 teaspoon salt to the milk and sugar mixture in step 1.
  3. Be sure that you cook the pastry cream once it comes up to a simmer so that you have cooked the flour. You can strain the finished pastry cream through a sieve if you end up with lumps.
  4. Pouring the hot milk into the egg mixture helps to temper the eggs and prevent them from curdling. Likewise, heat slowly.
  5. I stir constantly to prevent the milk and/or the pastry cream from sticking and burning to the bottom of the pan. This can happen quickly and will make unsightly dark chunks in the pastry cream. If this occurs, you can try to remove the chunks with a sieve, but it may be easiest to start over.
  6. You do not have to use heavy cream, and some recipes use only whole milk, but I like the extra richness and creaminess of using both milk and heavy cream.
  7. Use fresh eggs and bring them to room temperature to reduce the chances of curdling.
  8. For additional flavor, you can use a vanilla bean in addition to the vanilla extract. With the tip of a sharp knife, slice the bean from top to bottom, being careful not to cut through the bean (you just want to open it up). Scrape the “caviar” out to add with the vanilla extract. Allow the whole bean to simmer in the milk mixture. You will have the telltale specks of vanilla bean in your finished pastry cream if you use a vanilla bean.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 | Calories: 339cal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 222mg | Sodium: 64mg | Sugar: 25g | Fiber: 0.1g | Calcium: 97mg | Iron: 1mg

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.

Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
titled collage for italian pastry cream

Originally published August 2022

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6 Comments

    1. Great catch, Cora! Yes, the butter is added to the cooked custard. The recipe card has been updated accordingly.

      TSRI Team member,
      Becca

  1. How much does each batch make ? and the mixing steps are the same amount of milk and heavy cream in all of the batches Do I just half the amounts to do it
    Thank You

    1. Hi Anita,

      The recipe as written makes about 3 cups of pastry cream. Use the servings adjustment slider button in the recipe card to halve the recipe. Good luck!

      TSRI Team member,
      Becca

    1. Hi Mary!
      Pastry cream like this is traditionally used for the filling in eclairs, which are very similar to cream puffs, so I think they will be delicious! If you want to make the filling a little bit lighter (less dense), you could fold some whipped cream into the custard.

      TSRI Team member,
      Becca

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