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.
Pasta frolla the Italian name for what is basically a sweet shortcrust dough. It’s traditionally used to make crostata – a tart made with jam, or a baked custard-like filling, or fresh fruit. It’s a rustic, homestyle type of tart – right up my street. The minute I saw this month’s challenge, I knew my crostata would involve apples in one form or another. We were given a bag of absolutely gorgeous cooking apples by a fellow allotment holder and they absolutely had to get used. I toyed with several apple/jam combinations as a twist on a traditional jam filled crostata (crostata di marmellata). But then I got onto thinking about Christmas, and realised that this month’s Daring Bakers challenge would be the last one posted before Christmas. So it was decided – something apple-y and Christmas-y. But what exactly?
In the UK most traditional Christmas baking is based on lots of spices and dried fruit. Think mince pies (tarts to those of you in North America), Christmas cake & Christmas pudding. Sadly I don’t get overly excited about any of those. Maybe it’s because there are so many completely average ones for sale in the shops. I’m trying to learn to appreciate mince pies and the like, really I am. Maybe I should make my own more often (I have found a non-traditional Christmas cake recipe that I quite like – I will share that with you another time) … and I should probably have a crack at making mincemeat. Maybe then I’d get more excited about it.
Having said all that, I decided that the spices and dried fruit in mincemeat would actually pair really well with apples and make quite a nice tart. It would be the best of both worlds – for mince pie lovers it would have the mincemeat component. For apple pie/tart lovers it would have the apples.
So how was it? Well, I honestly can’t tell you because when I made it I happened to have (and still have, incidentally) a stinking cold and couldn’t taste a thing! Grrrr. But the man’s olfactory system was working just fine and he not only said it was delicious, but went on to have a second piece… When it comes to giving feedback on food I make he’s quite brutally honest, so if he said it was delicious then I think we must take his word for it! From a consistency point of view it was crunchy on top and soft in the middle, with the light pastry underneath it all.
So for me, this month’s challenge resulted in a festive dessert full of soft apples, warm spices and Christmas flavours. I’m thinking of making it again (when my ability to taste comes back) - perhaps as an alternative to Christmas pudding on the day itself. Who knows, it may help me along the road to appreciating mincemeat as well…
- 1 recipe of pasta frolla (see below)
- 400g good quality mincemeat (I highly recommend paying a bit more and getting the premium brand stuff, or use homemade if you have it)
- 3 cooking apples (I used bramleys) – approximately 650g total before peeling and coring – peeled, cut in half and cored, and sliced into half rings about 3mm thick
- 2 tbsp quince jelly, apricot jam, or another preserve suitable for glazing
- 1 egg for egg wash
- Demerera or granulated sugar for sprinkling on top (a few tbsp)
Assembling and baking the Christmas Crostata:
- Follow the instructions below for making the pasta frolla. You will need to allow at least 2 hours for chilling the dough.
- Once the dough has been chilled, heat the oven to 180ºC/375ºF
- Prepare your tart pan by buttering and flouring it. This isn’t always necessary but I think it’s better to do it than risk your gorgeous tart sticking to the pan.
- Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make the cut out shapes for the top of the crostata. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base.
- 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 floured work surface if you prefer.
- 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.
- 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 this excess 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.
- Take out of the fridge the reserved pasta frolla you had cut away earlier. Roll it with your pin and use cookie cutters to make small shapes – stars or trees are nice for Christmas.
- Distribute the slices of 2 of the apples evenly on the bottom of the tart shell.
- Spread the mincemeat over the apple slices.
- Place the slices of the remaining apple on top of the mincemeat. Press down on these apple slices to push them into the mincemeat a bit.
- Heat the quince jelly/apricot preserves/whatever preserves you’re using to make it spreadable. Using a pastry brush, brush the preserves over the apple slices.
- Place the cutout shapes over the apple slices. Brush the border of the tart and the shapes with the egg wash.
- Sprinkle the shapes with the demerera or caster sugar.
- Put the tart in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the apples for doneness and continue baking until they are soft and the tart is of a nice golden hue. The mincemeat should be bubbling in the centre of the tart as well as at the sides.
- When done, remove the tart from the oven and let cool. If you have used a tart pan with a removable bottom, release the tart base from the fluted tart ring. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving.
- 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.] plain flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (not bread 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: I keep split vanilla pods (where I’ve used the seeds for something else) in a jar with sugar. A quick easy, and relatively frugal way of making vanilla sugar.
Making pasta frolla by hand:
- Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
- 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.
- Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it
- Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
- Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and 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.
Making pasta frolla with a food processor:
- Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in 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
- See step 3 above and continue as explained in the following steps (minus the lemon zest, which you have already added).