Italian Pastry Cream, Crema Pasticcera

How to make crema pasticcera: It has thickened

How to make crema pasticcera: It has thickened

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
  • The yolks of 6 very fresh eggs
  • 1 pint (500 ml) whole milk
  • A pinch of salt.

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-bottomed 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.

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 while stirring constantly and it’s done. (Note — 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 done).

Transfer it to a bowl to let it cool, and lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on its surface, making certain the wrap extends to the edges of the bowl. Doing so will prevent a skin from forming on the crema as it cools.

Danielle suggests another way to keep the skin from forming: I learnt a tip many years ago that works very well and is simple. Reserve a tablespoon of of the sugar aside and sprinkle it over the cream when you set it to cool: It will keep a crust forming as the cream cools. It will melt and create a ‘watery’ surface that you can simply stir into the cream before use.
Voila.

As a final note, if you cover the milk after heating it and and let it sit for ten minutes covered it will absorb more bouquet from the vanilla bean. Also, you can, depending upon what you are going to use the cream for, flavor it with other things, for example 2 coffee beans or the zest of a half a lemon.

What to use it for? Well, between layers of sponge cake, for example, or under the fruit in a crostata. Or as icing, dusted with a little confectioner’s sugar. Or in a pudding.

An illustrated version of this recipe.

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Categories: Puddings and Spoon Desserts, Sauces, and Preparations, some of which go into other dishes

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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