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Italian Pastry Cream

Italian pastry cream is smooth and luscious and quite easy to make at home.

It doesn’t matter whether you call this pastry cream, creme patissiere or crema pasticcera, this recipe makes a thick and creamy custard that is perfect for pastries and desserts.

white bowl of pastry cream with a spoonful being poured in on pale blue cloth with bottle of milk, a lemon, eggs and a vanilla bean in the background.

My Italian version has a delicate lemon and vanilla flavour and can be adapted to make other lots of other flavours. 

I’ve been making this Italian Pastry Cream for a very long time and generally it is known as crema pasticcera in Italy. As a child, I watched my mum make it and learnt the flavours she used such as infusing the milk with the lemon rind. My mother would never have used (or probably even been able to purchase) something so decadent as vanilla bean. Feel free to substitute vanilla extract as explained below.

This cream is SO good! Actually, I could (and do!) just eat it like a pudding but it’s also great in Mini Cream Horns, Strawberry crostata, Italian cream puffs and Italian Peach Cookies. Plus this crema pasticcera is just what you need for a spectacular Italian Rum Cake and my Zuppa Inglese.

Pastry cream is really nothing more than thickened egg custard so don’t get to caught up with fancy names. In fact, pastry cream is so much easier to make than egg custard because the added starch (as in flour and cornflour) stablises the egg yolks. Unlike creme anglaise which uses no starch, pastry cream can be simmer without fear of making scrambled eggs. Actually, you NEED to simmer to cook out the floury taste. 

Ingredients

Ingredients viewed from above - eggs, lemon, milk, sugar, flour, cornflour/cornstarch, vanilla bean.

 Most likely you already have the ingredients to make this Italian pastry cream. That’s because it uses simple basic ingredient and yet creates a luscious, thick cream. All you will need is:-

  • whole milk
  • lemon
  • vanilla bean
  • sugar
  • eggs
  • flour
  • cornflour/cornstarch
  • salt
  • butter is optional but adds extra creaminess

Ingredient Substitutions

I love this recipe just as it is. However, there are a few ingredients you can substitute or leave out and not have a noticeable difference in flavour.

  • substitute reduced fat 2% milk for whole milk
  • for a dairy free option use soy or almond milk 
  • substitute half the milk for half pouring cream for a richer version
  • substitute 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract for vanilla bean
  • leave out the strip of lemon rind if you don’t want a lemon flavour

Variations

While I love this vanilla, lemony flavour there are many ways to vary this recipe. Omit the lemon rind and add any of the following.

  • infuse milk with a cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips to the hot milk and increase the sugar to 2/3 cup
  • to the hot milk add 1 tablespoon espresso powder 
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract 
  • at the end of cooking stir in 1 tablespoon of liqueur of choice 
  • 1/2 cup whipped cream folded into cold pastry cream

Instructions

four process images for making pastry cream. image 1 - milk in saucepan with strip of lemon rind and vanilla bean, image 2 - glass bowl filled with egg yolks, flour and more flour being poured in. 3 image - yellow custard mixture with milk being whisked in. image 4 - strip of lemon rind and vanilla bean on spatula suspended over saucepan of milk.
four images. Image 1 - glass bowl of yellow custard mixture with milk being poured in. image 2 - yellow custard mixture being pour through sieve into saucepan. image 3 - thickened pastry cream in saucepan. image 4 - pastry cream in white bowl covered with plastic wrap.
  1. Infuse the milk and sugar with vanilla and lemon rind
  2. Combine egg yolks, flour and cornflour/cornstarch
  3. Add reserved milk to egg yolk mixture
  4. Remove vanilla and lemon rind from milk
  5. Whisk hot milk into egg yolk mixture
  6. Strain back into saucepan
  7. Simmer and thicken on stove
  8. Pour into bowl and cover with plastic wrap

Tips for success and FAQ’s

white bowl of pastry cream on pale blue cloth.

Italian pastry cream will be smooth and delicious if you follow these tips.

  • sift flour and cornflour/cornstarch before adding to egg yolks
  • be sure to whisk constantly while adding hot milk to egg yolk mixture
  • strain through fine mesh sieve into saucepan
  • whisk constantly while cooking – never walk away from the stove
  • for extra insurance – pass cooked, hot pastry cream through fine mesh sieve
  • before using – whisk until smooth

If it’s still lumpy, pass the cold pastry cream through the fine mesh sieve however this may thin it out a bit.

Can this recipe be doubled?

Absolutely! In fact, this recipe will still work if tripled. 

How do I store Italian pastry cream?

Firstly, it’s important to use the freshest milk and eggs this means the Crema Pasticcera will last longer. Also, cover with plastic wrap pressing well onto the surface. This will ensure a skin doesn’t form. Then cover completely with plastic wrap and store for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. When cold this pastry cream will be firm. Give it a short whisk to bring it back to it’s creamy glory!

Can this recipe be frozen?

No, this recipe can’t be frozen successfully.

How can I make a thicker pastry cream?

For a thicker pastry cream, just increase the flour and cornflour/cornstarch by a teaspoon of each.

Recipes for leftover egg whites

white bowl of pastry cream on pale blue cloth with bottle of milk, a lemon, eggs and a vanilla bean in the background.

Egg whites freeze very well. Freeze in batches that you know you’ll use. Frozen egg whites are perfect for recipes like Italian Meringue Buttercream, pavlova and macarons or for something savory, try my Egg White Frittata.

Torta della Nonna
Plum and Vanilla Custard Tart from A Baking Journey
Homemade Puff Pastry from Sugar Spun Run

Made this recipe?
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white bowl of pastry cream with a spoonful being poured in on pale blue cloth with bottle of milk, a lemon, eggs and a vanilla bean in the background

Italian Pastry Cream Recipe

A thick and creamy Italian pastry cream that is perfect for pastries and desserts. This Italian version of creme patissiere has a delicate lemon and vanilla flavour and can be adapted to make other flavours such as chocolate or coffee.
4.98 from 47 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings:8 servings
Author: Marcellina

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (480 mls) whole milk divided
  • 1 vanilla bean split down the length
  • strip of lemon rind
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 5 teaspoons (½ ounce/15 grams) plain (all purpose) flour sifted
  • 5 teaspoons (½ ounce/15 grams) cornstarch (also known as cornflour) sifted
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoon (1 ounce/30 grams) unsalted butter optional but recommended

Instructions

  • Place 1 ¾ cups of milk, vanilla bean, and strip of lemon rind in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the milk just before simmering point. Don't boil. Stir in the sugar until dissolved and set aside.
  • In a bowl whisk egg yolks, flour, cornstarch and salt until smooth. Whisk in the remaining ¼ cup of milk.
  • Remove lemon rind and vanilla bean from the milk.
  • Slowly pour the hot milk onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly.
  • Strain the mixture back to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture comes to the boil and thickens. Simmer for 1 minute to cook the flour.
  • If adding unsalted butter, whisk into hot pastry cream until melted and mixed through.
  • Pour the pastry cream into a heatproof bowl pressing plastic wrap directly onto the surface to stop a skin forming.
  • Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
  • Before using, stir until smooth.

Notes

Variations

While I love this vanilla, lemony flavour there are many ways to vary this recipe. Omit the lemon rind and add any of the following.
  • infuse milk with a cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips to the hot milk and increase the sugar to 2/3 cup
  • to the hot milk add 1 tablespoon espresso powder 
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract 
  • at the end of cooking stir in 1 tablespoon of liqueur of choice 
  • 1/2 cup whipped cream folded into cold pastry cream

For a thicker pastry cream

For a thicker pastry cream, just increase the flour and cornstarch by a teaspoon of each.

For extra creaminess

Adding butter at the end provides extra creaminess. I recommend this but it’s not essential.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 150kcal | Carbohydrates: 18g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 56mg | Potassium: 90mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 16g | Vitamin A: 316IU | Calcium: 81mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

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22 Comments

  1. If I don’t have a vanilla bean, would a teaspoon of vanilla be an equal measurement? Thanks for any help.

  2. 5 stars
    My family did an Italian dinner for Thanksgiving this year, and I used your custard recipe to fill cream puffs. The recipe as you have written it is very straightforward and simple to follow. Everyone at our table raved about the custard. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Michaela, I’m thrilled that you enjoyed this recipe because it’s just how my mother made it and it’s a special recipe for me. I hope it will become a special recipe for you too.

    1. Yes, Rasha, you can use cocoa powder. Depending on how chocolatey you’d like it, add 2-3 tablespoons when heating the milk. Increase the sugar just as if you were adding chocolate chips (check out the quantity in the “Variations” section). Enjoy!

  3. 5 stars
    So helpful with all the tips. And sooooooo delish. A fav- go-to family sweet. Thanks Marcellina

  4. 5 stars
    My new guilty pleasure. Right out of the bowl and it’s so creamy and decadent. Anyone asks, I’m practicing for a cake! Hehehe

      1. very thick and bland. I think flour and cornstarch are too much thickening agent. Ill thin it out with some limoncello. Better tecipes out there.

        1. Julie, your comment makes me think that your measurements were out. The recipe asks for five (5) teaspoons of flour and five (5) teaspoons of cornstarch. Could you possibly have used tablespoons? I have added in the weight equivalents to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Did you remember to include the lemon peel and the vanilla? These add a beautiful taste to my recipe which is also very traditionally Italian. Many readers have made and loved this Italian pastry cream and I have been making it for years so I know it works. Please reach out to me via email so that we can troubleshoot.

  5. Good morning. Why do you use both flour and cornstarch? I have seen recipes that use one or the other. I love reading your blog and have enjoyed many of your recipes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Connie! Great question. I have tried both ways but I find that only cornstarch doesn’t keep as well and seems to become thinner. And with only flour, I find the floury taste is hard to overcome. The combination of the two is the best of both worlds. You can substitute one for the other and see for yourself what you prefer. It probably is a matter of personal taste too. Thank you for your kind comments. I appreciate your feedback xx

      1. While in Italy we had a dessert that was drizzled with very thick balsamic, which I did buy. Would this pastry cream be good with the balsamic?

        1. Hi Gail, I can’t say because I’ve never tried it but why not try? I like balsamic glaze on strawberries and ice cream or grilled peaches.

          1. I am taking it to our vacation house for a special treat. I am hoping this is the same pastry cream we had in Italy with the 30 year old balsamic.