05 December 2010

Apricot 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.

I was pretty excited when I saw the challenge for November, because I've actually made this dessert a number of times, even though I haven't posted about it yet.  Crostata is essentially the Italian version of the French tarte, the most noticeable difference being the pastry shell itself.  While the French Pâte Brisée is a flaky pastry made of flour, butter, egg yolk and water, the Pasta Frolla of Italy is more of a shortcrust pastry, but much more flavourful.  It uses the same building blocks as the French pastry, but adds a generous amount of sugar, fresh lemon zest and vanilla, elevating the crostata shell from a mere vessel for filling, to an actual flavour component for the entire dessert.  What's more, a common filling for crostata is jam, meaning  you can create a killer dessert in under 15 minutes when you have last minute guests and are pinched for time.  You can't get much more appealing than that, can you?

Two things that you should definitely make sure of when you are making a crostata; use fresh lemon zest in the pastry and whatever jam or filling you like best - doesn't matter if it's homemade or store-bought, if you like it on toast, it will be incredible in a crostata.  I have even used some pretty mediocre jams, just to use them up and clear some space in the fridge, only to hear groans of delight when our friends get a taste (it's a magical dessert that way).  This time, I had my eye on a tangy apricot jam, though a seedless raspberry also

I followed the pasta frolla recipe that Simona posted for us (pasted below), but as always, I used my food processor to combine everything.  If you, like my friend Shannon, happen to be one of those who struggle with pastry because you have warm hands, the food processor is the only way to go.  If you struggle, like I do, to roll out a pastry shell that doesn't shrink every bloody time, no matter what you do, then I highly recommend that you skip the rolling process entirely and simply press the crumbled dough into the tart shell and be done with it.  The number of hours I have wasted on rolling out dough and reading up on how to make sure the shell doesn't shrink, and rolling out more dough, and blah blah blah.... let's just say I could have done a LOT with those hours.  Well, since I pressed it directly into the shell and then let it chill in the fridge, I haven't looked back.  I get reliable results every time, with a lot less time, and a lot less cursing.  I doubt I will ever go back to rolling....

Press-in method for tart shells.  Perfect every time.

Pasta Frolla
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.

Put sugar, flour, and salt in the bowl of the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
Add butter and pulse a few times until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
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.

OK, here's where I go off recipe and do my own thing....
I add the lemon zest in with the butter, and pulse it a few times until it has the consistency of coarse meal.
Pour the egg, yolk and vanilla into the food processor and pulse a 5 or 6 times until the liquids are fully incorporated and the mixture holds together when squeezed together.
Dump 3/4 of the dough mixture into the bottom of a tart pan, and press it firmly and evenly into the shell.  Start by concentrating on the edges of the tart, making sure they are even, then press the remaining dough into the bottom of the pan.
Place the pan in the fridge to chill for about an hour or so.
Take the remaining 1/4 of the dough, and roll it out {sigh} to about 1cm thickness.  Using a ruler and a sharp knife or pastry cutter, cut the dough into 3cm wide strips.  It is ok if not all the strips are the same length, as they will be criss
Place the strips onto a cookie sheet or flat tray, and move them to the fridge while you fill the tart shell.

For the filling:
Open your pantry or fridge
Pull out a jar of really good jam (about 600 ml), such as apricot
Open it.
Dump the jam into the crostata shell.
Spread it evenly around the shell using the back of a spoon.
Now take a bow - Ta-Daaaaaa!

Pre-heat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC)
Take the beautifully rolled strips of dough, and criss-cross them over the filled crostata, making a nice pattern.
Press the strips firmly into the edges of crostata shell, to make sure they adhere (the sugar in the dough will help that happen).
Bake the crostata in the now-heated oven for 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Once baked, allow the crostata to cool to room temperature, about 1-2 hours.  Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, creme fraiche, or just on it's own.
Sit back, enjoy your tasty dessert, and contemplate all the flavours of jam that you can use next time....

Jam Crostata... endless flavour possibilities


Viola Pie-ola said...

I have sampled this crostata and I can't believe the filling is "dump jam in pastry, smush with spoon". It had great fruity flavour and good texture, like a nicely-set apricot curd. I definitely prefer this to a tarte. The pasta frolla is a firm crust, cookie-like with a tender crumb. It holds up to the jam well.
I do hear from a reliable source that the filling is like molten lava with a bad attitude when it first comes out of the oven. Let it cool, let it set. It was fantastic the day after.

MeetaK said...

this looks just awesome julia! a perfect partner to a lovely tea. soon in may ;o)

Nisrine | Dinners and Dreams said...

Lovely crostata. The macaroons below look gorgeous too!

Shannon said...

Love the quick and easy food processor tip (what with my warm hands and all!). But the best time saver is to have you make this and bring it over! Just finished the last piece today. Yum, yum, yum....