Crema pasticcera is Italian pastry cream. It is used as filling for cakes, tarts and the much loved breakfast pastries like cornetti and bomboloni (Italian croissants and doughnuts). Often lightened up with some whipped cream, crema pasticcera is the filling of choice for many cakes.
Curiously, Italians call this whipped cream lightened crema pasticcera “chantilly”, whereas “chantilly” in France refers to lightly sweetened whipped cream with a hint of vanilla. The equivalent of the Italian chantilly is called crème diplomatique in French.
Crema pasticcera, pastry cream:
500 g whole milk (for a richer cream use 400 g milk and g heavy cream)
125 g granulated sugar
40 g cornstarch (or 50 to 60g if a very thick cream is necessary)
100 g of yolks (from 4 to 6 eggs depending on the size)
Seed from a vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
Zest of half a lemon
- Put a bowl that holds 2-2.5 quarts in the refrigerator or freezer to chill.
- In a saucepan, bring milk, vanilla bean, and lemon rind almost to a boil.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and the starch, and then add the yolk and incorporate gently, without whipping.
- Begin to add the hot milk to the sugar and starch mixture: start by adding a small quantity of milk, whisking to avoid lumps, then add half of the remaining milk, whisk again, and, finally, add the rest of the milk.
- Return the mixture back to the pot, and bring it back to the stove and cook it to thicken. Stir constantly to prevent the mixture from burning or sticking to the sides of the pot. When the mixture begins to thicken and the first sign of large bubbles on the surface, promptly remove the pot from the heat and whisk very energetically to prevent clumps from forming. Pour into the chilled bowl and whisk to quickly bring the mixture to room temperature.
- Cover the crema pasticcera with cling wrap, making sure the plastic is in contact with the cream, which will prevent it from forming a skin. Chill until ready to use. *
- When you are ready to use the crema pasticcera, it is necessary to briefly whip it with a whisk to lighten it up after it’s been resting in the refrigerator.
* Because crema pasticcera is made with eggs, it is a very delicate cream, and it is important to handle it safely to avoid spoilage. By chilling the cream quickly, we stop the growth of harmful. It is important to consume crema pasticcera within a few days, and never leave a product with pastry cream unrefrigerated for long periods of time, especially in the summer.
Advanced bakers who are interested in knowing more about the science behind a good crema pasticcera can keep reading further:
The standard recipe for making crema pasticcera at home uses 4 to 6 egg yolks and flour (not starch, as above) as a thickener. In professional pasticcerie, however, chefs use a much larger number of egg yolks to achieve a silkier, richer mouth feel. Egg yolks set or coagulate at a temperature of between 55° and 67° C. With a higher proportion of egg yolks to other ingredients, the temperature required to cook the yolks decreases. But flour gelatinizes at a high temperature, so if using flour as a thickener, one must cook the cream to a higher temperature. Therefore, when making crema pasticcera with a higher proportion of egg yolks, flour is not the ideal thickener. Instead, we need to switch to other starches (like the cornstarch in the recipe above) that require a lower temperature to gelatinize. This enables us to cook the yolks less, which will have a positive impact of the flavor of the cream. Everyone knows how unpleasant overcooked eggs can taste.
Another reason I prefer not to use flour as a thickener is that, after cooling and resting in the refrigerator, cream made with flour will become runnier than cream thickened with starch. The amount of sugar in the crema pasticcera will also impact its shelf life-the more sugar, the longer it will last, although nowadays people don’t like products to be as sweet as in the past. The perfect crema pasticcera needs so be silky, glossy and not overly thick.
One final note: When crema pasticcera is used as a filling for a tart or a cake that gets baked in the oven, it gets recooked in the process. In such cases, we need to use the minimum quantity of yolks and use only milk in our crema pasticcera, or the product will inflate a lot during cooking only to fall once cooled.