Smooth and creamy Italian lemon pastry cream is made with egg yolks, milk, sugar and flour and flavored with lemon. Rich and thick, crema pasticcera is used in many Italian desserts from cakes, to doughnuts, to tarts!
Sweet and velvety Italian lemon pastry cream is incredible! Called crema pasticcera in Italy or crème pâtissière in French, it is an essential filling in many Italian desserts including bombolini (Italian doughnuts) and this lemon cake.
There are many adaptations of this crema, but the citrus in this version is one of my favorites! It is simple to make with only a few ingredients, but for the best Italian pastry cream with balanced flavor and texture you must follow both the ingredients listed here plus the steps on how to make it.
Get ready for the most luxurious filling as you only need 25 minutes of prep time for this authentic lemon pastry cream recipe!
Ingredients You Need
Italian lemon pastry crema is a thick custard with cooked ingredients. Follow the ingredients listed here for the best rich and creamy results.
- Milk: You must use whole milk for the best Italian pastry cream. Whole milk thickens quickly and is rich in taste.
- Cream: Use whole, whipping or heavy cream that is at least 30% fat.
- Lemon peel: Since we are making an Italian lemon pastry filling you will need 1-2 medium lemon peels.
- Egg yolk: You will need 4 large egg yolks that have been brought to room temperature. Do not use the egg whites as it will interfere with both the taste and texture of the pastry cream.
- Sugar: Granulated sugar dissolves the best in liquid.
- Vanilla extract: Pure vanilla extract or you can use lemon extract for extra lemon flavor.
- Flour: All purpose flour will be used as thickener.
How to Make Italian Lemon Pastry Cream
To make the perfect Italian pastry filling follow these easy steps then chill the mixture until it is thick and creamy.
To start we will infuse our liquid ingredients with lemon peel for the best flavor. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, cream and lemon rind, then heat until very hot but not boiling. When it is nice and steamy, remove from heat and let cool.
Next, in a medium sized stove pot whisk together your eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla extract until smooth, approximately one minute.
Place the pot over medium low-heat and pour the warm milk mixture through a sieve into the pot to remove the lemon rind, then whisk your egg mixture continuously until thickened.
Remove the pot from the heat and transfer to a heat resistant bowl or a chilled bowl. This prevents the cream from cooking any further. Cover the bowl tightly with a piece of plastic wrap ensuring that the plastic touches the cream mixture. This helps prevent the creation of a film or skin on your cream.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using your Italian lemon pastry filling. Depending how long you leave the cream in the fridge you may want to whip it for about 30 seconds to get it nice and creamy again.
There are so many delicious ways to flavor your Italian pastry filling, lemon is just one of them. Try these other varieties to mix it up!
- Vanilla pastry cream: Omit the lemon and use only the vanilla extract or use ½ teaspoon of vanilla paste or vanilla bean for a more concentrated flavor. This Classic Pastry Cream has all the directions.
- Orange: Substitute one orange peel for the lemon zest.
- Dark chocolate: Skip the lemon and stir in 2 ounces of melted and cooled dark chocolate. Follow my chocolate pastry cream directions to see how it’s done!
- Liqueurs: Add 1-2 tablespoons of Limoncello, La strega Liqueur or Cointreau Liqueur.
- Fruit puree: Stir in your favorite fruit puree to add a different flavor.
- Pumpkin: For a seasonal variation, try this pumpkin pastry cream.
- Coffee: Brewed and cooled before adding, take a look at my coffee pastry cream for exact measurements.
Italian Lemon Pastry Cream Tips
- Be careful not to get any white part of the lemon as it will lead to a bitter tasting lemon pastry filling. If using lemon extract then use only 1 lemon to flavor your cream.
- Room temperature ingredients will incorporate better for a smoother pastry cream.
- Whisk constantly to ensure that no lumps form.
- Do not let the mixture come to a boil, it might cook your egg yolks leading to a weird taste. For accuracy use a thermometer and make sure it never goes over 185 degrees F.
- If you need thicker cream for a cream pie, you can add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch.
Fun Ways to Use It
The best part of making Italian pastry cream with lemon is using it in your favorite pastries, eclairs or cream puffs. Here are a few more ideas and for even more take a look at the best of my lemon recipes!
The two are very similar hence the confusion but pastry cream is actually thicker, so thick that you could actually eat it with a spoon like pudding! Custard cream is often served warm and is a bit more runny.
There are many recipes that use cornstarch, but for my Italian lemon pastry filling recipe, I prefer flour as the thickening agent. I find that flour is more stable and holds up better over low heat.
Using full fat whole milk will provide the best rich tasting results. If you only have 2% milk you will need to add butter to recreate the rich taste.
You will need to use rice starch or cornstarch to make this gluten free. Rice starch will lead to softer results while cornstarch will be similar to the thicker results with flour. Start by adding the same amount of starch as flour and adjust as needed.
How to Store Pastry Cream
You can keep this crema pasticcera in the refrigerator covered for 4-5 days. If a skin forms on the top while in storage, just scrape it off gently with a butter knife. Do not mix it in with the pastry cream, as it will cause unpleasant lumps.
Do not freeze your leftovers. Upon thawing it tends to separate and curdle.
Italian Lemon Pastry Cream
- 2 medium pots
- Heat resistant bowl
- ¾ cup milk (whole milk)
- ¾ cup cream (heavy, whole or whipping cream – at least 30% fat)
- 1-2 medium lemons peel only try not to get any white part of the lemon (if using lemon extract then use 1 lemon)
- 4 large egg yolks (room temperature)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (or lemon if you prefer)
- 2½ tablespoon all purpose flour
- In a medium pot, add the milk, cream and lemon rind, heat until until very hot but do not boil. Remove from heat and let cool to warm.
- In a medium whisk together until smooth the egg yolks, sugar, flour and vanilla Place the pot over medium / low heat, pour the warm milk/cream through a sieve to remove the lemon rind (discard), whisk continuously until thickened.
- Move the pastry cream to a heat resistant bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (make sure the plastic touches the cream mixture)and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. Enjoy!
- Depending how long you leave the cream in the fridge you may want to whip it for about 30 seconds to get it nice and creamy again.