Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Fruit Crostata

Before you read any further I must warn you that this crostata does not use fresh fruit (as sacrilegious as that may initially sound) but rather it contains something delicious all on its own. And that would be a great quality jam or preserve. There are jams and preserves and then are jams and preserves. Said differently, not all jams and preserves are created equal. But just in case you think I am leading you down the path of making your own jam or preserve in this recipe, I am not, although I am leading you down the path of making your own crust.

I was looking for something simple but with great flavor to make to bring to my neighbors across the road who have returned for the summer. My search led me to a Crostata con Marmellata di Frutta recipe (Italian version of a fruit tart) created by Maggie Barrett and tweaked by David Lebovitz. And if anyone can tweak a recipe, David Lebovitz can.

The recipe called for the use of apricot preserves, however, any thick jam or preserve of choice could be used. In other words, jellies will not work in this recipe. I am a huge fan of the jams and preserves made by Stonewall Kitchen so for me it was just a matter of choosing which of their jams or preserves I wanted to use.  Too many good choices actually.  If it wasn't a two hour and thirty minute drive from where I live to their store in York, Maine, I would be in that store weekly to sample their foods which would ultimately lead to me coming home with a bag filled with all sorts of things. The store is so beautiful and the customer service so amazing that it is hard to resist not making at least one purchase. But no matter where you live, you can find their food products in many grocery stores and food markets. Or you don't even have to leave your home as they make it easy to order online. But this is not a recipe serving as a commercial for Stonewall Kitchen food products, it is a recipe about a mouth watering, simple, beautiful summer fruit crostata.

I absolutely love the taste of blueberry jam and so I thought it would be perfect in this crostata. But that would be my personal preference. Cherry, apricot, blackberry, or raspberry jams or preserves, to name a few, would also work well here. The possibilities are endless!

After looking at both recipes, I decided I would take from of them. David Lebowitz replaced some of the flour with finely ground cornmeal and added a little salt which I too thought would make the crust even more flavorful. The one half-cup of cornmeal adds to the deliciousness of this crostata. Maggie Garrett's recipe used two cups of flour. After tasting the tart, will stay with David Lebowitz's cornmeal suggestion.

Initially I was going to use almond extract, but at the last minute decided to use vanilla extract instead. And while I was all set to add the zest of one lemon (which would have been a great compliment to the blueberry jam), I decided to have this first crostata made without it. Now I just have to decide if I will add it the next time (and there will definitely be more than one next time).

Like all baked good recipes, this one also calls for room temperature butter and eggs. The sugar and butter are mixed until well blended. The egg, egg yolk and vanilla are blended in before the sifted dry ingredients are added.

This dough comes together beautifully in the mixer. It is mixed until it forms into clumps. When it gets to this stage, it is removed from the mixer, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for at least an hour. (An hour turned out to be the perfect amount of chilling time.) David suggested the dough be divided in unequal parts (2/3 and 1/3) before wrapping and refrigerating, however, I wrapped the dough in one whole piece and was not disappointed. If I was going to make the dough early in the day and not bake until later, I would take his dividing the dough advice.

As much as I try to find ways to work around a homemade dough, this dough is so easy to work with.  Two-thirds of the dough is broken into pieces, placed in a non-stick 9 inch tart pan, and then pressed into place. 

Once you fill the crostata shell with the jam or preserve of your choice (I encourage you to consider a high quality blueberry jam or preserve), the remaining dough is rolled out. 

Both recipes called for cutting the rolled dough into long strips and then weaving them into a lattice pattern. This dough rolls out beautifully on a lightly floured surface and would make anyone who seeks to avoid homemade doughs become a dough making convert.

Because I wanted this crostata to look a little more rustic, I used one of my antique cookie cutters and created a pattern on top of the filling. You could be really creative with how you finish the top of this crostata. If you do not want to create any sort of a design, you can simply cover the top of the crostata with a piece of the rolled out dough (making slits in it to ensure the steam escapes).

The crostata is baked at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes in the center of a pre-heated oven. I baked the crostata for almost 24 minutes as I wanted to make certain the top crust didn't darken to a stage where it would harden upon cooling. As much as you would want to eat this crostata as soon as it comes out of the oven, wait until it is room temperature as this makes it easier to cut and serve. Whether serving it as is or adding some vanilla ice cream to it, this is an incredible crostata, one you don't have to travel to Italy to enjoy.

Summer Fruit Crostata (adapted version of Maggie Barrett's and David Lebovitz's recipes)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for rolling dough
1/2 cup cornmeal or polenta
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
9 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract)
12.5 to 14 ounces of your favorite jam or preserve (Recommend Stonewall Kitchen jams and preserves)

1. Whisk flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until well combined.
3. Mix in the egg, egg yolk and vanilla until well blended.
4. Add in the sifted dry ingredients and mix at medium speed until mixture begins to form into clumps.
5. Remove dough from bowl, form into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour. Hint: Can divide dough (2/3 and 1/3), wrap and refrigerate if chilling longer than an hour.  Will have to bring back to a cooled room temperature if dough is chilled until hardened.
6. Using 2/3s of the dough, press evenly into a 9 inch non-stick tart pan (one with a removable bottom).
7. Spread jam or preserves over crust.
8. Roll out remaining 1/3 of the dough. Cut into narrow strips and make a lattice pattern on top of crostata. Suggestion: Cut rolled dough into shapes and place on top of the filling.
9. Bake in the center of a pre-heated 350 degree oven until pastry is golden brown (about 20-25 minutes). Hint: Check after 20 minutes to see the doneness of the crust. Be careful not overbake or your crust will become too hard to really enjoy.
10. Let cool. Serve room temperature. 

Today just happens to be the first day of summer, the longest day of the year (in terms of sunlight that is). Later tonight I will be joining some friends for an end of the day, end of the (long) week cocktail while watching the sunset over the water. The weather is glorious here today, so I am looking forward to seeing the brilliance of the sky as the sun goes down. If I am lucky I will be able to capture the beauty of the first sunset of the summer on my camera. Does anyone ever get tired of looking at a beautiful sunset?

While I read all year long, summer is a time that I have a little more discretionary time and can actually read even more. There is a stack of books on the antique table (serving as a nightstand) and on the floor next to the table just waiting to be read. Some of them have been started and some have yet to be opened. As much as I love reading, I do not look forward to coming to the end of a really good book as I often get caught up in the characters and the setting. I sometimes feel a connection or have an emotional reaction to the characters in the book (those likable and those not) as well as gain an odd sense of familiarity for the setting (as if I too had spent time in the places and time periods described). I envy writers that have the ability to make books 'come alive'; somehow getting us to form an emotional attachment to the characters, where they and their stories remain long after the book has ended. So for all of the wonderful things that summer brings, the memories created from books read are just one of its many blessings.

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