I can't believe how quickly the time is flying! It is time once again for another Daring Bakers' Challenge.
The 2010 November Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Simona of bricole. 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 had never heard of pasta frolla before, and all I knew of crostata was from the photos that I had seen on foodgawker, which led me to believe that a crostata was a free-form type of tart filled with some kind of fruit filling.
As it turns out, pasta frolla is a type of sweet short crust dough, similar to tart or pie crust dough, but made with eggs (unlike other short crust or pie crust doughs), and there are limitless possibilities for filling crostata - they are not limited to free-form fruit varieties. Simona provided us with two different recipes to choose from for our pasta frolla, and then several ideas to inspire us regarding fillings, though did not limit us when it came time for filling and flavor decisions.
I had so many ideas right away, that I knew I would want to make more than one crostata. The challenge was narrowing it down to the few I wanted to make specifically during the challenge time-frame.
The inspiration for my first crostata hit me about a week after the challenge was posted, when our local food store listed fresh raspberries for sale. One of the ideas that Simona had provided for inspiration was a delicious looking crostata. made in a tart pan, filled with pastry cream and topped with fresh fruit. The raspberries looked too good to pass up, and thus I decided that they would be the showcase for my first attempt at a crostata.
The first step was to make the pasta frolla dough. The process for making pasta frolla is not that different from making pie crust dough - dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt, in this case) are sifted together, then blended with (cold) butter. While most people use a food processor to blend in small cubes of cold butter, I usually either cut it in with two knives or use my fingers to literally rub the flour into the butter. I recently read about a trick to make this process even easier, and that is to actually grate the butter prior to incorporating it into the flour, so I decided to give that a try here. Oh my goodness, I wish I had known about this sooner. Grating the butter is so easy, and the smaller pieces are so easy to rub into the flour, making it so quick and easy to turn the combined ingredients into the coarse meal that it needs to be in order to then incorporate the liquid. As I mentioned, in this recipe, unlike other crust doughs that I have made, the liquid is egg (one whole egg, one yolk), rather than water, and the egg is incorporated much in the way it is for pasta dough - poured into a well in the middle of the flour mixture, which is then slowly mixed in to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Once the dough becomes too stiff to stir with a fork, little miss helped me to knead the dough until we had the right consistency for our pasta frolla. At this point, the dough was placed into the refrigerator to cool.
With the dough in the refrigerator, it was time to make the pastry cream. I had a bit of trouble choosing a recipe for my pastry cream, since I had only made it once before (for the tiramisu challenge), and wanted to experiment with other recipes. I finally settled on this recipe. The cream took much longer than I had expected to thicken, and then, once it did, it actually thickened way up all at once, so I was a little concerned when I transferred it to a bowl and placed it in the refrigerator to chill for the afternoon.
When the dough was fully chilled, little miss helped me roll it out. I don't have a tart pan (which are commonly used used for making crostata, contrary to what I had seen with the free-form examples of crostata that I had previously seen on foodgawker), so I used my regular pie plate. Since I had chosen a pastry cream and fresh fruit crostata, my pasta frolla, once in the pie plate, needed to be blind baked, which just means that it is baked on its own with no filling in it. In order to help the crust maintain its shape, when blind baking a pie or tart shell, it is important to use pie weights. For us, we used dried beans (a combination of black eyed peas and garbonzo beans, in case you are curious - it's what we had on hand...) (and yes, I kept the beans, which will now officially be my pie weights from now on).
Right before dinner, when the baked pasta frolla crust was cooled, the pastry cream was fully chilled through and the raspberries, well, they were just waiting to be eaten, it was time to construct the crostata. The pastry cream was still very thick, but spread very nicely into the crostata shell. After being taste-tested by little miss, the raspberries were then arranged on top of the pastry cream, and the whole, completed crostata was placed into the refrigerator just waiting for us to finish dinner.
This dessert was fantastic - the pasta frolla crust was crispy and delcious, sweet without overpowering the flavor of the filling, and the pastry cream and fresh raspberries were delicious.
I was so encouraged by this first attempt at a crostata that I couldn't wait to try another. So a week later, I did.
Once again, the grated butter trick was awesome. Unfortunately, the pasta frolla gods were not with me that afternoon, as my dough seemed to have a very hard time coming together. I needed to add extra cold water, as the dough was way, way too dry and crumbly to come together. But with a little extra coaxing, we finally had a good dough, which was then set to rest in the refrigerator.
For this crostata, I chose to go more along the lines of what I had seen before, and went with a fruit filling and decided to forgo the pie plate. In keeping with the season, I chose apples and cranberries for the filling. While I peeled and cut the apples, little miss sorted through the cranberries, picking out only the best ones to be added to our apples. I wasn't actually working with a recipe, and just winged it for the filling. I was worried that the apples and cranberries wouldn't fully cook in the oven, so decided to pre-cook the filling. I cooked the apples and cranberries in a generous pat of butter with a small scoop (totally unmeasured, sorry) of brown sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The filling was then poured into the center of the rolled out pasta frolla, which I had rolled into the closest approximation of a circle as I could. I then folded up the sides of the dough to contain the filling. The whole thing was then popped into the oven. I wasn't sure quite how long it would need. I started by setting the timer for 25 minutes. When the timer beeped, I could see that it needed a bit more time. I checked on it every five minutes or so until, after a total of about 45 minutes, the crust was a nice golden brown and the crostata looked and smelled fantastic. And when it came time for dessert, it did not disappoint. We actually all agreed that this one was even better than the first.
I had never made any kind of tart before, and never knew quite how versatile they were. Simona, thank you so much for introducing me to pasta frolla and the endless possibilities that it presents. I have so many ideas for so many other varieties, and I can't wait to try them.
To see some of the amazing, beautiful and delicious creations made by the other Daring Bakers this month, check them out here.
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