A packet of vanilla-laced cake yeast (see explantation below)
1 cup (200 g) unsalted butter or rendered lard
3-4 egg yolks
2 cups (200 g) sugar
Amarena cherry jam
[section] Crema Pasticcera [/secton]
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.
How to make it
[section] To Make Pasticciotti Casalinghi [/section]
Sift 6 cups (600 g) flour with a packet of vanilla laced cake yeast (this is essentially baking powder with a little vanillin; packets weigh 15 grams, which is about 3-4 teaspoons).
Cream 1 cup (200 g) unsalted butter or rendered lard and combine it with the flour.
Next, work 3-4 yolks and 3 cups (600 g) of sugar into the dough.
Make the dough into about 40 balls the size of a walnut, flatten them on a floured work surface, and spread the middle of half of them with fairly thick cherry (amarena, specifically) jam.
Cover with the remaining disks, pressing down around the edges to make sure they stick.
Preheat your oven to 300 F (150 C).
Line a cookie sheet with oven paper. Brush the tops of the cookies with lightly beaten egg white, and bake them for 20-25 minutes.
Cool them on a rack, and dust them with powdered sugar when cold.
[section] Note [/section]
The original recipe calls for, instead of baking powder, 5 grams of bicarbonate (a teaspoon) mixed into a tablespoon of warm milk and combined with 15 grams (3 tablespoons) cream of tartar, which is then worked into the dough. I've tried making them like this too and there isn't much of a difference.
Other option: Fill them with a thick pastry cream. Don't try Nutella, because it dries out and becomes horrible. Other jams are of course fine, as is candied citron. That's it!
[section] To Make Crema Pasticcera [/section]
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 and let it cool, gently stirring it often to keep a skin from forming across top.
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.
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.