November's baking challenge was a crostata (e.g. Italy's version of a tart). Crostatas have two basic parts: the crust and the filling. The crust is called pasta frolla and is buttery with a hint of citrus. The filling is variable, from raw or cooked fruit to crema pasticcera (a.k.a. crema or pastry cream, a creamy custard which is cooked on the stovetop). I thought a lot about seasonal fruits when preparing to make the challenge. I recalled a tasty cranberry apple casserole that my friend Mary makes sometimes for Thanksgiving. I wondered how its filling would taste atop a layer of the crema. This led to the preparation below.
Step 1: Crust
Since the challenge requirements were to use Simona's recipes for the pasta frolla, I chose the first one she listed mainly because it only used wheat flour (standard all purpose). I did make a slight varation on this as I had no lemon available. I did have an orange so I used orange peel instead.
Simona's Pasta Frolla #1
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 (I used the zest of 1/4 of an orange)
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
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.
Step 2: Crema Pasticcera (Pastry Cream)
For this recipe, I used Simona's aunt's recipe with a slight adaptations. I didn't have extra large eggs so I used what I had (which were either medium or large, they were farm raised locally so they weren't graded. I'd say you could use medium or large and it wouldn't make a ton of difference based on previous experience.) Since she said her recipe was notably not sweet, I sweetened it just a little. This was especially important since I was adding the tart cranberry apple element as a fruit topping. Finally, due to the lack of lemon, I used orange. Note, this will yield about enough crema for two tarts with half fruit, half crema or one tart filled entirely with crema. Here's my version:
1 large egg and 2 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar (65 g)
500 ml milk (slightly more than 2 cups)
3 strips of orange peel about 3" long and 1/2" wide (using a potato peeler to cut the strips makes it easier to avoid
cutting the white part of the citrus)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour (I use White Lily. A harder flour such as Pillsbury will make a stiffer curd.)
Pour the milk into a pan, add the citrus peel and warm up to to just below boiling point. To describe this state, I'd say, pull the milk off the stove when you first start to see bubbles form. I'd class this as barely simmering.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until the mixture is bubbly. Basically you'll see some bubble formation in the top of the solution. Its not going to be like a bottle of bubbles. Just expect to see some small bubbles in the top.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture and beat briefly until it is incorporated.
Temper the egg mixture with a small quantity of milk, then slowly add the rest of the milk, mixing with a wooden spoon. I alternated adding first maybe 1/4 to 1/2 c. of milk solution and then mixed the egg and milk solution together using a wire whisk.
Pour the mixture into the pan and set it to between low to medium heat, stirring at least every couple of minutes. When the froth on the surface disappears completely, the crema starts to feel slightly thicker.
From then on stir almost continuously. When the crema reaches boiling temperature and thickens, cook briefly (1-2 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat. Then remove the citrus peel. Place the saucepan in a cold water bath, and stir the crema to bring down its temperature. To prevent making a mess, choose a bowl for the water bath that is slightly larger in diameter than your crema sauce pot. Fill the bowl 1/4 to 1/2 way full with cold water and ice. Plan to have at least 30-45 minutes to cool your crema.
While the crema cools down, stir it every now and then to prevent the formation of a film over it. Since everything is cooked, feel free to have a taste.
Step 3: Fruit Filling (Adapted from Mary's Cranberry Apple Casserole)
1 1/2 c. of your favorite apples, peeled and diced (The original recipe called for Granny Smiths. I used 1 Granny Smith and 1 Honeycrisp. I'd recommend any sweet-tart apple so Braeburn would work well too.)
1 c. cranberries
1/3 c. brown sugar (I tend to prefer dark brown sugar but dark or light will work.)
Place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir them together. Yes that's really it. If you want you can add 2 tsp of lemon juice to keep the apples looking fresh but its really unnecessary as you are about to bake them.
Step 4: Assembly and Completion
Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Pull your pasta frolla (crust) out of the refridgerator. Unwrap the plastic partially from around it so that you have plastic on the counter top and the dough atop the plastic.
Cut away 1/4 of the dough and reserve it for making a top crust.
Place another piece of plastic wrap on top. Using a rolling pin or a sturdy plastic cup, roll the dough to 1/8 " thickness.
Remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Using the lower layer of plastic wrap, lift and flip your pastry dough on top of your tart pan. If you are using mini tart pans, cut away a section that's about the right size and then move the section rather than the full sheet of dough. Shape your dough into the tart pan to cover the surface.
Add the crema. I filled the crema to about halfway up the tart.
Sprinkle the fruit mixture on top of the crema to fill the rest of the tart pan.
Roll out the reserved portion of dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut out strips to form a lattice or use cookie cutters to create a seasonal decoration. I used maple leaves and served this for Thanksgiving.
Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes. The crust should be lightly browned.
Now its time to take a taste! Cut off a slice!
Reaction: Its tart! Its sweet! Its creamy! The crust is awesome! I don't want the recipe, I want you to make it again for me to eat! (My favorite response was this last one from my grandma.) Its good to try new things. Its even better to try new things at Thanksgiving with family members who are often picky and who find out they love this new thing you've had them try. I really enjoyed this challenge, both in making and in tasting. I tasted the pastry cream with a little hesitance since I'm a bit iffy on pudding like textures. I found I really liked it. It had just enough sweetness for me. (I only increased the original sugar slightly). Thanks for introducing me (and my family) to crostatas!