Something you’ll find all over cafes in Italy are gorgeous golden tarts, called Crostata Marmellata. Marmellata means jam, which is exactly what they’re filled with – strawberry, raspberry, cherry and, one of my favourites, apricot. They’ll only set you back as much as that avocado toast from across the road and there’s much more work put into making them. My Zia in Italy prepared one for me when I was there visiting and it was so delicious – it reassured me how simplicity really does shine, and that non-chocolate desserts stand a chance too 😉
Crostata is a simple tart made from a distinctly Italian pastry called “pasta frolla” somewhat equivalent to France’s “pate sablee”. It is a rich dough made with butter, egg yolk, sugar and flour. What makes it unique are a couple of things:
1. Ingredients: if you are lucky enough to find a little sachet of “lievito” (a vanilla-flavoured baking powder or yeast mixture), this will make it truly authentic because it is used widely across Italy. Otherwise, a bit of baking powder will do the trick. Any leavening agent at all in pastry is unique to pasta frolla as it gives it a tender, crumbly and softer texture compared to flaky, crispy French pastry. Also, the addition of flavouring, like citrus zest or pure vanilla extract is common for pasta frolla.
2. Technique: French pastry requires cold butter for blending into flour and forming coarse crumbs before eggs and liquid are added. Then a light and quick hand is used to bring the dough together without overworking it. Pasta frolla is different in that it calls for slightly soft butter that you will work quite vigorously into the dough with the yolks and then knead a bit to form a smooth dough. The dough doesn’t become tough because no water is used. Water is what wheat flour needs to form gluten. The butter and egg yolks provide enough fat to keep the dough “short” or tender.
Crostata can refer to two types of tarts: a) a rustic open-faced, no-dish-needed pie made by rolling out the dough into a flat layer over a baking tray, placing the filling ingredients inside and folding the edges up and over to enclose the tart. dough; and b) this traditional lattice-topped tart found all over Italy.
Since June is in bloom, a homemade strawberry jam… or raspberry jam, if you can wait until August, would be phenomenal. I used a really good quality raspberry jam in a pinch.
Italian Raspberry Crostata
Makes one 8-inch crostata
You Will Need:
For the pasta frolla:
1 ½ cups (215 g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (50 g) sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
½ cup (113 grams) cool unsalted butter, around room temperature
2 large egg yolks
½ tsp pure vanilla extract
For the filling:
¾ cup best quality raspberry jam
1 beaten egg, for brushing
- To make the pasta frolla, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large bowl to combine. Add butter and mix it into the flour using your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the flour/butter mixture and add the egg yolks and vanilla. Toss together with a fork to moisten and then bring the mixture together with your hands, squeezing and pressing it together until it forms a smooth dough. You may fold it over itself a few times if necessary. Divide the dough into two portions – 2/3 of the dough for the base and 1/3 for the lattice top. Flatten each portion into a round disk, and cover each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Roll out the larger disk of dough between two sheets of parchment paper to about 1/8-inch thick. Fit the dough into the base of an 8-inch round springform pan, pressing it into the edges and up the sides. Use a knife to trim excess dough around the perimeter, leaving about 1/2 inch up the sides. Make a border for the tart by rolling the excess pastry into a long rope and place it around the edges of the tart pan. Press it into the base pastry and use the blunt side of a knife or a spoon to make indentations around the border for a decorative pattern. Refrigerate while you prepare pastry for the lattice top.
- Divide the remaining dough into eight or ten portions and roll each into a long rope. Retrieve the tart pan from the fridge and spread the raspberry jam out in an even layer over the base, within the border. Starting in the center, arrange four or five ropes on top of the jam, spacing them 1 inch apart. Repeat with remaining ropes at a 45 degree angle from the other ropes to create a diamond pattern, again spacing the strips about 1 inch apart. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F/180°C (conventional).
- When ready to bake, brush edges of pastry and tops of ropes with beaten egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is a golden brown. Let cool and serve.