Bowl of Italian pastry cream (crema pasticcera) sitting on a striped dish towel. A spoon is next to the bowl.
Home » Italian Recipes » Real Italian Pastry Cream – Crema Pasticcera Recipe + How to use it

Real Italian Pastry Cream – Crema Pasticcera Recipe + How to use it

Last updated on October 26th, 2023

Want to try your hand at making pastry cream but not sure what to then do with it? I am here to help!

In this article, I share my family recipe for Italian pastry cream that comes from my Italian husband Pietro’s family. I will tell you how to use it with plenty of tips along the way!

What I am about to admit is going to really make my Italian friends and family gawk and perhaps consider dis-owning me but I grew up actually not liking pastry cream (also called custard). For an Italian, this really isn’t possible. All Italians love pastry cream – I mean, their favorite gelato flavor is crema

Today, true to my Italian lifestyle, pastry cream plays a vital role in my life. I make it all the time (having fresh eggs from our hens helps) and eat it with fruit, in profiteroles, in pies and to dip cookies in. I sometimes even eat it with a spoon – my kids do for sure when I am not looking! 

Crema Pasticcera Pronunciation

selection of italian pastries displayed in a glass case from side view
Brioche alla crema

Pastry cream in Italian is called crema pasticcera (pronounced CREH-mah pah-steech-CHEH-rah)

Listen to the pronunciation of crema pasticcera:

What is Crema Pasticcera (Italian Pastry Cream)?  

top view of white bowl with egg whites and sugar on a marble board
Adding the warmed milk slowly while stirring will help temper the eggs (bringing the eggs up to temperature slowly so they don’t curdle).

Crema pasticcera in Italy is a thick egg custard, better known as pastry cream, which is used to fill various Italian desserts and sweet treats such as donuts, cakes and pastries. It’s very simple to make and uses only egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, milk and vanilla. 

Good To Know: Pastry cream and custard are often used interchangeably. They refer to the same idea of cooking these ingredients together until thickened but custard can vary in consistency. Sometimes it’s runnier while other times it’s spooned out. Pastry cream is always very thick and can be eaten with a spoon.

Ingredients for Crema Pasticcera

Close up of fresh eggs.

serves 8-10. prep time 5 min. cook time 15 min. rest time 3 hours

  • 4 large egg yolks 
  • ⅓ cup (70 g) sugar 
  • ¼ cup (30 g) cornstarch 
  • 500 ml (2 cups) warm milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or ½ vanilla bean pod, split open and seeds scraped out
  • pinch of salt

Step-By-Step Instructions for Crema Pasticcera

top view of someone pouring a cup of milk into the pale yellow egg yolks to temper them on a marble board
  1. Warm the milk in a saucepan then set aside, being careful not to boil it. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, if using and add.
  2. Briskly whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale in another bowl, a couple of minutes. Mix in the cornstarch and a pinch of salt until it is smooth.
  3. Very slowly pour the warm milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. This step, known as tempering, is very important for avoiding a lumpy custard.
  4. Return the egg and milk mixture back to the saucepan and heat it on a medium-low heat, stirring constantly.
  5. Keeping an eye on the temperature, stir the mixture constantly with a whisk until the mixture is very thick (about 10 minutes). Turn the heat down to low if lumps are forming or the bottom is burning. Whisk in the vanilla extract (if you are not using vanilla bean).
  6. Remove from the heat and pour the pastry cream into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap directly on top, being sure that the plastic is touching the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. 
  7. Chill for at least 3 hours.
top view of glass bowl of pastry cream on the left hand side of photograph frame on a marble board

Crema Pasticcera Substitutions

  • Replace the cornstarch with flour.
  • My favorite way to change things up: make chocolate pastry cream by folding in 5.5 oz (150 g) chopped dark chocolate after the pastry cream comes off the heat. This can then be used in place of any regular vanilla custard for most things.
  • Replace the vanilla with any one of the following flavors:
    • lemon zest (1 whole organic lemon)
    • orange zest (1 whole organic orange)
    • marsala wine  (around 1 tbsp)
  • You could try replacing the milk with plant-based milk (but I don’t guarantee anything as I personally have never tried this).

How to Use Crema Pasticcera

side view of a two stogliatelle on a wooden surface
Sfogliatine filled with pastry cream
  • Fill bomboloni (donuts)
  • Fill cornetti/brioche (croissant-like pastries)
  • Fill sfogliatine (Italian pastries)
  • Fill a cake such as schiacciata alla fiorentina or torta della nonna
  • Fill profiteroles (french pastry shells)
  • Fill a pie shell/short pastry crust shell for a custard pie
  • Serve with pandoro or panettone around the holidays
  • Serve with fruit: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries work best
  • Eat it like a pudding with a spoon
top view of a small bowl filled with strawberries and topped with pastry cream next to a large blue and white bowl of cut strawberries on a marble table

Crema Pasticcera Recipe – Notes and Tips

  • Make sure the milk isn’t anywhere near boiling when adding to the eggs because you will scramble them! Slowly add the warmed milk to bring the eggs up to the correct temperature (also known as tempering the eggs).
  • Always make your custard with a whisk to prevent lumps.
  • Always use whole milk.
  • Don’t forget to cover the top of the custard with a layer of plastic wrap directly touching the top to avoid a skin from forming.
  • Try to use a heavy bottom saucepan and keep it on low heat to keep the custard from burning on the bottom.
  • Halve the recipe if you don’t need as much since it doesn’t freeze well.
  • Be patient! You do have to stir constantly while the pastry cream thickens, which can take 5-10 minutes. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry, it will!
top view of glass bowl of pastry cream garnished with strawberries on the marble board
Bowl of Italian pastry cream (crema pasticcera) sitting on a striped dish towel. A spoon is next to the bowl.

Real Italian Pastry Cream – Crema Pasticcera

Our Italian family's recipe for crema pasticcera.
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 people

Ingredients
  

  • 4 egg yolks large
  • 1/3 cup sugar (70 g)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (30 g)
  • 2 cups warm milk (500 ml)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or ½ vanilla bean pod, split open and seeds scraped out
  • pinch of salt

Instructions
 

  • Warm the milk in a saucepan then set aside, being careful not to boil it. Scrape the vanilla beans from the pod and add (if using extract, you will add this later).
  • Briskly whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale in another bowl, a couple of minutes. Add the cornstarch and salt and mix until it is smooth.
  • Very slowly pour the warm milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. This step, known as tempering, is very important for avoiding a lumpy custard.
  • Return the egg and milk mixture back to the saucepan and heat it on a medium-low heat, stirring constantly.
  • Keeping an eye on the temperature, stir the mixture constantly with a whisk until the mixture is very thick (about 10 minutes). Turn the heat down to low if lumps are forming or the bottom is burning. Whisk in the vanilla extract (if you are not using vanilla bean).
  • Remove from the heat and pour the pastry cream into a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap directly on top, being sure that the plastic is touching the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming.
  • Chill for at least 3 hours.

Notes

  • Make sure the milk isn’t anywhere near boiling when adding to the eggs because you will scramble them! Slowly add the warmed milk to bring the eggs up to the correct temperature (also known as tempering the eggs).
  • Always make your custard with a whisk to prevent lumps.
  • Always use whole milk.
  • Don’t forget to cover the top of the custard with a layer of plastic wrap directly touching the top to avoid a skin from forming.
  • Try to use a heavy bottom saucepan and keep it on low heat to keep the custard from burning on the bottom.
  • Halve the recipe if you don’t need as much since it doesn’t freeze well.
  • Be patient! You do have to stir constantly while the pastry cream thickens, which can take 5-10 minutes. If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t worry, it will!
Keyword authentic, fresh
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Crema Pasticcera (Italian Pastry Cream) FAQ

How long can I store pastry cream?

You can keep it in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a layer of film from forming on the top.

Why does a film/skin develop on the custard?

It’s just from being exposed to oxygen. The very top dries out, creating a slight ‘skin’ to protect the rest of the pastry cream.

What should I do if a skin or film does develop on the top of my custard?

This is no problem from a health point of view but if you mix it back in you will get lumps. Just skim it off if you want to avoid any chance of lumps.

Can I freeze pastry cream?

You really shouldn’t freeze pastry cream because it can curdle or separate when it defrosts.

What can I do with the leftover egg whites?

Don’t throw them out! You can make plenty of desserts including meringue, a favorite in our house or whip them up to incorporate into a light and airy cake. They can also be used to make royal frosting which can then be frozen and used in another moment to decorate cookies.

2 thoughts on “Real Italian Pastry Cream – Crema Pasticcera Recipe + How to use it”

  1. 5 stars
    We just returned from Italy and already missing the food. While I’m GF in the US, I can eat pasta, pizza, bread – everything! When growing up, our neighbor who came across by boat in the early 1900s with her family when she was 3 made the most delicious tortellini (veal) and tortelacci (filled with spinach & cheese) in bone broth. I remember arriving home from school just as the dough was being finished. My mom would put all the leaves into our dining table, cover it with a clean plastic table cloth and they’d roll the dough, scoring it; we’d drop dollops on top and she would twist them with her chubby fingers into a knot. We tried but they broke every time! Sweet, delicious memories! My dream is that when I die and enter into Heaven, she will be there waiting for me with bowls of each! If you have recipes of one or both, I’d LOVE to make them. LOVE your site and plan to order Italian flour, and make Crema this weekend!

    1. Hi Gigi,
      Thank you for sharing your beautiful family story about Italian food traditions. It always warms my heart to hear other stories about people who love Italian food, culture and family just as much as I do! Please reach out to me if you have any questions when baking this weekend!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating