Ack! I’ve done it again. With all of the craziness of Thanksgiving and my life in general, I completely forgot that Saturday was the reveal date for the November Daring Bakers  challenge. It wasn’t until I opened my reader last night and saw all of the DB posts that I realized it. 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. So, I frantically rooted around in my kitchen to see what I could find to throw my crostata together. Better late than never, I guess.
A crostata is basically an Italian tart. The base of a crostata is made with pasta frolla, a sweet short crust pastry or sweet tart dough. The filling is traditionally made with either jam, fruit preserves, pastry cream or any combination of them, but you can use anything your little heart desires. Since I was flying by the seat of my pants, I used what most might probably consider a very unorthodox filling – my leftover cranberry chutney from Thanksgiving. Yes, you read that right. I spread a thick layer of cranberry chutney over that short crust dough and tossed it right in my oven. The chutney was full of fresh cranberries, dried cherries, raisins, jam and sugar. It looked like thick fruit preserves and it tasted delicious, so why not use it! Actually, I think the choice totally embodies the spirit of the Daring Bakers, don’t you? Just call me Kitchen Ninja!
The recipe for this crostata is a bit different from what I’m used to. My Aunt Giuseppina makes the best darn crostata I ever tasted. It’s one of her signature dishes and everyone loves it. The crust in the DB recipe is a lot like a shortbread. My aunt’s crostata crust is much more cake-like. While both are good, I’d have to say I like Aunt Giuseppina’s version better.
And, in case you were wondering how my crostata experiment turned out – it was fantastic! Seriously, if I hadn’t told anyone that the filling was leftover cranberry chutney, no one would have ever guessed. It just goes to show that a little imagination and ingenuity goes a long way.
Crostata di Marmellata
1 batch Pasta Frolla (recipe follows)
1 and 3/4 cups [415ml, 600 gm, 21 oz] of jam or fruit preserves of your choosing
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. Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick. 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. 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. Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places.
6. 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.
7. Spread the jam or fruit preserves evenly over the bottom of the crostata.
8. Use the prepared strips or rolls of dough to make a lattice over the surface, or decorate with the cut shapes.
9. 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.
10. Put the tart in the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes. After 25 minutes, check the tart and continue baking until the tart is of a nice golden hue.
11. 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.
1/2 cup 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 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
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).