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.
Dessert recipes can seem intimidating at first, but I promise that this pasticcera 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.
When it comes to delicious desserts, using this classic recipe can take morning pastries or Italian dessert recipes to a whole new level of flavor.
This easy recipe has the texture of a simple custard and is a delicious filling for a French croissant, Italian donuts, or can even be delicious to add to the top of fresh fruit.
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 — especially in French creme patissiere!
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 Italian crema in less than 30 minutes!
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 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 crema, then use vanilla bean as well!
Slice the vanilla bean from top to bottom and scrape the paste into the extract, letting it simmer with the milk to fully bring out the flavor.
Tips for Making the Best Pastry Cream
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 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 your Italian crema from burning on the bottom of the pan. Opt for a slimmer whisk to reach all along the edges!
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 pasticcera recipe makes a vanilla flavored custard, but you don’t need to stop there! Add lemon, orange, or lime zest for a citrusy custard.
You can also swap the vanilla for spices, teas, and even coffee! Or, if you want something a bit more rich and slightly more bitter, you can mix in some cocoa powder for a chocolate custard.
Once cooled, try stirring in creamy peanut butter or Nutella for a truly decadent treat.
Storing and Freezing Crema Pasticcera
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!
Add a fresh piece of plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin from forming on top.
Unfortunately, you cannot freeze this topping because it’s made with cornstarch. Once thawed, the texture will not be the same.
Fixing Common Mistakes
- Lumpy or Grainy: Either of these will happen if your pasticcera is heated at too high of a temperature or curdles.
Straining will remove the lumps, but if it’s grainy, you’ll need to toss it and start fresh.
- Too Thick: Don’t compact your cornstarch when measuring. If it’s still too thick, vigorously whisk in an extra splash of milk to loosen it up.
- Too Thin: If you cooked it properly and it’s still too loose, increase the amount of cornstarch.
- Discolored: Be sure to use a stainless steel, copper, or non-stick saucepan. Aluminum will leach into the pastry cream, causing it to turn grey.
Different Ways To Use Italian Crema
While Italian pasticcera is incredible as a filling for donuts, it’s just as tasty in a variety of other desserts and pastries:
- Fruit Tart
- Cream Puffs or Eclairs
- Boston Cream Pie (including my cupcake version!)
Crema Pasticcera FAQ
Crema pasticcera! It’s used in all sorts of Italian tarts, cakes, and pastries. In French, it’s called creme patissiere.
Both custards are creamy and delicious but have slightly different consistencies.
Italian pasticerra is particularly thick, whereas many other custards are a bit runnier.
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 activate the starches and help the eggs set, which is important for ensuring a thick, firm custard.
That’s the thing about this delicious custard cream. It can be put into a puffy pastry, add a little bit on top of a sponge cake, or filled into Italian croissants.
The egg mixture makes it pair well with fruit tarts, and the custard mixture is thick enough that it creates a thick cream that works well for adding to layer cakes, too. Using this creamy consistency as a sweet filling makes it the right consistency for just about any different recipes.
Dare I say that it’s the perfect filling for any French dessert and is great for making and enjoying on lazy Sundays. In my opinion, this is the perfect crema pasticcera recipe. Follow the full recipe below to make it just the way I do!
Be sure to leave a 5-star rating if you’re a fan of this creamy vanilla pastry cream! It adds the final note of flavor to any and all desserts!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Other Italian Dessert Recipes
Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticcera)
- 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
- 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.
- 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..
- 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.
- 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.
- Pouring the hot milk into the egg mixture helps to temper the eggs and prevent them from curdling. Likewise, heat slowly.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use fresh eggs and bring them to room temperature to reduce the chances of curdling.
- 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.
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.
Originally published August 2022, updated and republished January 2024
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