Everyone has a special memory of their childhood. Most of mine revolve around the kitchen and family.
While most kids were out playing T-ball, my time was spent in the kitchen being intrigued by my mother and grandmother gathering just a few ingredients and producing a meal for the family. Whether it be waking up to the smell of fried meatballs or Nana’s Rum Cake, I will always cherish these memories and still to this day, collect as many recipes as I can.
Funny thing, most of my conversations revolve around food. Whenever I meet an old childhood friend or cousin, I ask what they prepare and what their mother and grandmother used to make, and how they are passing down the recipe to their children and grandchildren. Ha, it’s a Sicilian thing, I guess.
I still remember sitting on the kitchen counter as a child while my mother made Italian pastry cream for our family’s restaurant. Simple ingredients such as milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla powder were the main ingredients. The pastry cream would later be used for her cream puffs and eclairs, rum cake, strawberry cake, chocolate mayonnaise cake and more. Whenever mama was asked to bring something to a party, this pastry cream would always be the most requested. I was very fortunate to always be the official taste tester in the family and always enjoyed the custard when it was hot from the pot.
I remember in 1972, the Kansas City Star featured my father on the front page of the Living section on Mother’s Day with an article about Strawberry Chantilly using my mother’s recipe for pastry cream, fresh strawberries, whipped cream and coconut. So simple but so delicious!
Still today, this recipe is used in our kitchen at Jasper’s Ristorante & Marco Polo’s Italian Market in all of our cakes, Strawberry Chantilly, Napoleons and Cream Puffs.
Here is my mother’s recipe for Crema de Pastissiera (Italian pastry cream) for you to enjoy this holiday season. Please note that Mama always used vanilla powder, which is available at local bakery supply stores or online. There are many types available; just make sure you purchase one that is 100 percent ground vanilla bean powder.
And one last tip: Keep stirring the pastry cream; this is a little work but it makes a big difference because if the pastry cream has lumps in it, it will be ruined. Her secret was to add a little butter at the end for added flavor. Such great memories that I still treasure today.
Josephine Mirabile’s Italian Pastry Cream
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract or powder
1 tablespoon butter
Mix flour, salt, cornstarch and sugar in a 2-quart pot. Add milk, mix together and bring all to a boil. Whisk egg yolks in a separate bowl. Take 1/2 cup of hot milk and mix with the yolks, then add back to the milk mixture. Add vanilla. Pastry cream will thicken.
Remove from heat and pour in bowl. Add butter and fold gently to incorporate.
Top with clear film so a crust does not form. Cool before refrigerating.
Chill for three hours before using.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s runs his family’s 62-year-old restaurant with his brother. Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He is host to many famous chefs on his weekly radio show “Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen” on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM. He also sells dressings and sauces.