Make perfect Italian pastry cream every time! This thick, rich, smooth and creamy custard is a perfect filling for croissants, profiteroles, pandoro, tarts and many other pastries.
Crema Pasticcera, or Italian pastry custard, is a lightly sweetened lemony flavoured custard. In France it is known as crème pâtissière.
It is thicker than a regular pouring custard, or crème anglaise, and is rich, smooth and creamy, ideal for filling profiteroles, croissants, brioche, and fruit tarts.
In fact it is so delicious you might want to eat it with a spoon!
A good family friend recently came back from Italy carrying cakes (thank you Sarah!), amongst them a delicious pandoro.
Pandoro with custard
Pandoro is a sweet Italian ‘golden bread’ which looks most appealing sliced horizontally into star shapes, but more importantly it tastes amazing combined with Italian custard!
Pandoro farcito con crema pasticcera, or pandoro filled with custard, is wonderful with coffee or tea, and makes quite a stunning dessert!
To make this pandoro with custard cut a pandoro horizontally through the lower third of the cake to make a thick slice. Then hollow out the shape of a star from the center of the cake, fill with custard and top with berries.
For a tart
Alternatively, use the custard to fill a tart and top with any seasonal fruit such as this strawberry custard tart.
How to make pastry cream
This recipe to make crema pasticcera is quick and easy. I usually make it in advance as it tastes so much better after it has rested for a few hours.
You will only need 6 ingredients and as this recipe uses rice flour, it is gluten-free.
The egg yolks give a wonderful richness to the custard.
Follow these tips for a delicious thick, smooth and creamy Italian pastry cream every time!
For best flavour and texture:
- pour the milk slowly into the egg mixture to temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling.
- do not leave the custard to simmer, stirring is what gives its smooth consistency.
- the custard is considered ‘done’ when it has thickened to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
- transfer the custard to a chilled bowl to cool it down, and stop it from further cooking becoming too dense and thick.
- Use fresh eggs, as they tend to loose their thickening properties as they become old.
- Make sure the eggs are at room temperature for easy blending.
- Whole milk (for the higher fat content), and vanilla beans or a good quality vanilla extract/paste.
- Pour the egg whites into small freezer bags then freeze to use later.
Your questions answered
Tempering eggs is the process of warming raw eggs slowly, so they mix smoothly and do not scramble when combined with a warm mixture.
Italian pastry cream can be made using cornstarch/cornflour, potato starch or rice flour. I prefer to use rice flour as the flavour is less distinguishable and it does not leave an aftertaste.
I love the freshness of the lemon zest and the combination with vanilla, but you might find any of these a better fit for your dessert:
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa and 1 teaspoon vanilla
Pour the custard into a glass bowl and place some plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard so it doesn’t form a skin. This way it will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.
The custard will thicken while in the fridge, so whisk briefly before using to return it to its creamy consistency.
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Italian Pastry Cream Recipe
- 500 g whole milk 2 cups
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract/paste or 1 vanilla pod*
- ½ tablespoon finely grated lemon zest unwaxed lemon
- 5 large egg yolks room temperature
- 120 g sugar ½ cup
- 40 g rice flour or cornstarch/cornflour ⅓ cup
- Place a medium size glass bowl in the freezer to chill.
- In a small saucepan, heat milk with the vanilla and lemon zest just till you see steam rising, then remove from the heat and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk the yolks and sugar, add rice flour and whisk till smooth and thick.
- Pour the warmed milk slowly into the egg mixture**, stirring constantly. Once fully combined, place the saucepan on medium-low heat. Keep stirring till it thickens (around 5 minutes), ensuring it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, then remove from the heat.
- Pour the custard into the chilled bowl and whisk quickly to cool it down. Place plastic film directly over the custard to prevent a skin from forming and leave on the counter to cool. Once cool, place in the fridge and use within 2 days.
- This is a great make ahead recipe as the custard tastes even better after resting.
- Use whole milk and fresh eggs for best results.
- Do not overheat the milk, just heat till you see steam rising. If it is too hot it will scramble the eggs.
- Zest half a lemon using a microplane or grater, taking care not to grate the bitter white pith.
- *If using a vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and add the pod and seeds to the milk.
- Variations – instead of lemon and vanilla, add 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1 tablespoon orange zest, or ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
- Instead of rice flour, you could use the same amount of cornstarch/cornflour or potato starch/potato flour.
- **Pour the warmed milk slowly into the egg mixture while whisking, to temper the eggs and prevent them from scrambling.
- Cover with plastic film, laying it directly on top of the custard so it doesn’t form a skin, and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Straight out of the fridge, the custard will be firm so before using, whisk the custard to a soft and smooth consistency.