Daring Baker Challenge November 2010: Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This was not actually the first crostata that I've made. I made a different version in March that was free-formed and filled with apricots and taleggio. This version of pasta frolla dough came from this month's host, Simona. Her website is full of Italian food history and excellent descriptions, and her introduction of this dessert for the month's challenge reflects it fully. Though she prefers a crostata filled with pastry cream, she remembers an aunt who filled hers with homemade jams. Seeing as I have lots of jam, I decided this would be the way to go for me, even if it isn't the most creative. I love that this dough is easy to make, delicious, and leaves very little to clean up.

The dough can be transformed into different sized crostatas, or simply be rolled into crisp cookies. It can be flavored with different zests, or essences, and can nuance whatever filling you prefer. Given the season, I chose orange zest. I also used Simona's proportions for using part whole wheat flour, which also lent a pleasant bitter note to the sweet jams I chose.

The dough is rolled between two sheets of plastic wrap, leaving very little to clean up. I made a full batch of the dough and decided to cut it in fourths. It was the perfect amount to fill my 6 inch tart tins, with just enough left over to create lattice designs for the top.

I've had quite a few sweets around lately, so the day I mixed up the dough I baked my first crostata using cranberry apple jam I had made last year. The dough baked up crisp and perfectly flaky - and my suspicions about the wheat adding enough bitterness to counteract the sweetness of that much jam were correct. I let the dough sit well wrapped several days before making another crostata and I'd have to say that it was still good but not quite as good as the first day it was made. I used plain strawberry jam in my second one, and decided to cut small circles to polka-dot the top. I jury-rigged a piping tip to use as a small enough cutter, but it worked just fine.

I think these jam-filled crostata would make the perfect ending to either a light meal or a heavy one. They are heavy, rich enough to complete a light meal. They would be great as a part of a dessert table for a sweet bite or two to end a nibbling dinner satiated and not wanting more. I also think that they would provide a well defined statement at the end of a heavy Autumn or Winter meal, when dense proteins and starches have filled you, and you just need a mouthful of something to call it a day. Not to mention, it's a way to use up some of the homemade jams I'm addicted to making. All in all, I'd say that the crostata could be my new favorite dessert!

I also love that the dough comes together exactly the same way as a pasta dough. You make a well in the dry ingredients, and then add the eggs. I do this in a bowl, just because of the size of my counters. Since Simona's directions are so concise and well written, I am leaving them at length.

Pasta Frolla (Simona at briciole)
1 9 or 9 1/2 inch tart tin, or several smaller tart tins (roughly 4 6 inch tart tins)
  • 1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • grated zest of half a lemon (you could also use vanilla sugar as an option, see Note 2)
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
Note 1: Superfine sugar is often also referred to as ultrafine, baker’s sugar or caster sugar. It’s available in most supermarkets. If you cannot find “superfine” sugar, you can make your own by putting some regular granulated sugar in a food processor or blender and letting it run until the sugar is finely ground.

Note 2: There are different ways of making vanilla sugar. I keep vanilla beans in a jar half-filled with sugar until I need to use them, for example, to make vanilla ice cream. After I remove the split bean from the custard that will go into the ice cream maker, I rinse it, dry it and put it back in the jar with sugar.

Making pasta frolla by hand:

  1. Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
  3. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
  4. Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
  5. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
  6. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
  7. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.
Making pasta frolla with a food processor:
  1. Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
  2. Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
  3. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface
  4. See step 3 above and continue as explained in the following steps (minus the lemon zest, which you have already added).

or Version 1 of pasta frolla:

If you want, you can make the pasta frolla using a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat pastry flour.

If you choose to try this variation, use 1 cup [240 ml, 135 g, 4 3/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup [180 ml, 100 g, 3.5 oz.] whole-wheat pastry flour.

Crostata di Marmellata (crostata with a jam filling using Version 1 pasta frolla)

If you choose to make a crostata with a jam filling, you will need:

  • 1 and 3/4 cups [415ml, 600 gm, 21 oz] of jam or fruit preserves, whatever flavor you like (Note: I use my homemade fruit preserves, which have a low sugar content. I recommend you choose a good quality product, made with mostly fruit.)

Assembling and baking the crostata di marmellata:

  1. Heat the oven to 375ºF [190ºC/gas mark 5].
  2. Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make the lattice top of the crostata. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base.
  3. To help roll the crostata dough, keep the dough on top of the plastic wrap that you had it wrapped in. This can help rolling the dough and can also help when transferring the dough to your pan. You can also use parchment paper for this. However, you can also roll the dough directly on a work surface if you prefer.
  4. Lightly dust the top of the dough and your work surface (if you’re rolling directly on a work surface) with flour. Keep some flour handy to dust the dough as you go along.
  5. If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin's width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.
  6. Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick.
  7. If you used the plastic wrap or parchment paper as rolling surface, flip dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap.
  8. Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.
  9. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places.
  10. Take out of the fridge the reserved pasta frolla you had cut away earlier. Roll it with your pin and cut into strips or use cookie cutters to make small shapes (this is not traditional, but it looks cute); or roll with your hands into ropes.
  11. Spread the jam or fruit preserves evenly over the bottom of the crostata.
  12. Use the prepared strips or rolls of dough to make a lattice over the surface, or decorate with the cut shapes. (Note: You can use dough scraps to make cookies: see the Additional Information section for some pointers)
  13. Brush the border and strips of dough with the reserved beaten eggs. You can add a drop or two of water to the beaten eggs if you don’t have enough liquid.
  14. Put the tart in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  15. After 25 minutes, check the tart and continue baking until the tart is of a nice golden hue. (Note: Every oven is different. In my oven it took 34 minutes to bake the tart until golden.)
  16. When done, remove the tart from the oven and let cool. If you have used a tart pan with a removable bottom, then release the tart base from the fluted tart ring. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving."

I found one quarter of a 6 inch tart plenty enough dessert... and that is coming from a die hard dessert fiend. I suspect a pastry cream filled crostata would fill me up considerably less and be far less sweet. You can blind bake the crusts by lining them with foil and weighting them with pie weights. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and foil and continue baking for 5 minutes until lightly browned. Layer with pastry cream of your choice and top with fresh fruit. If you were Ina Garten, you would brush your fresh fruits with a tad of watered down peach or apricot jam to bring out their luster. I'll probably opt for this version in the Summertime.

I think I continue to be so interested in the Daring Baker Challenges because I'm always trying something new. I tend not to always want to take the time to make a pastry dough, but this month's challenge convinces me that it can be very easy and even not so messy. This is certainly a dessert I will reach for in the future, and one I would recommend to others. It's a perfect way to showcase some of your homemade jams, making even less work of this easily elegant dessert. Please be sure to drop by Simona's site and also to check out other Daring Baker's take on this month's challenge.