Crema pasticcera, pastry cream, is one of the basic ingredients used in Italian
pastries and cakes: it's the creamy custardy filling of the layer cake, or the cream
you find in your morning pastry, or the creamy base of your pudding. In short, Italian
desserts wouldn't be quite the same without it.
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
A vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Yolks of 6 very fresh eggs
1 pint (500 ml) whole milk
A pinch of salt
Set all but 1/2 cup of the milk to warm over a slow burner with the vanilla bean.
In the meantime, lightly whisk the yolks in a bowl to break them.
Strain the flour
into the bowl, whisking gently, and making sure that no lumps form. Whisk in the
sugar too, and then the remaining half cup of milk, keeping a wary eye for lumps.
By this time the milk on the stove will be about ready to boil. Fish out and
discard the vanilla bean, and slowly whisk the milk into the egg-and-milk mixture.
Return the cream to the pot and the pot to the fire, and continue cooking over a
low flame, stirring gently, until it barely reaches a slow boil. Count to 120
degrees F while
stirring constantly and it's done. (Depending on your eggs and milk it may
thicken to the proper consistency before it boils. If it reaches roughly the consistency
of commercially prepared plain yogurt of the sort that will pour from the cup it's
Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool, gently stirring it often to keep a skin
from forming across top.
Crema pasticcera is not difficult to make, though it does require care
and attention lest it curdle. Fernanda Gosetti, author of Il Dolcissimo, suggests
you use a copper pot because it conducts heat better, and adds that if you make
crema pasticcera frequently you should invest in a round-bottom pot because its
entire contents will be accessible to the whisk or spoon. She also notes that the
crema should be transferred to a bowl as soon as it's ready, because it will continue
to cook in the pot.
The quantities given above can easily be expanded or reduced.