Monday, August 22, 2016

Nectarine and Plum Crostata

Recently one of my friends posted to her 'book of faces' page she would be blocking all of the political hype and rant posts for the next couple of months. For some reason this jogged a memory. Years ago, while walking through one of the exhibits at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I remember being taken aback by the tone of the images and rhetoric depicted in the political and editorial cartoons published in the 1860s. Based on my reaction, it was clear my early social study/history education had been unbalanced, filtered, and slightly skewed. Sometimes portrayed as a devil, sometimes as a jester, the perceptions and opinions some held of Lincoln back then seemed far from the ones we (or at least I) have of him today (thanks in large part to new historical research). So it seems over the course of the last 150 plus years not much has changed as negativity continues to play a large, distractible role in presidential campaigns. And I agree with my friend, sometimes we need a break from all of the hateful, hurtful, harmful political, opinion as fact rhetoric dominating social media. Too much of anything can sometimes not be a good thing. So was anyone else as thrilled as I was to have had the distraction of the Olympics for the past two weeks? Now, if only the next season of "House of Cards" could be released sooner rather than later.

Last week I presumptively posted a photo of this Nectarine and Plum Crostata to my 'book of faces' page before we tasted it. Although this may have been a little risky on my part, I couldn't imagine something so pretty not tasting delicious. Having already tried my hand at making a free-form rustic apple crostata as well as a summer fruit crostata, it was time to make a more refined rustic version (in other words, one without a fancy lattice top). The arrangement of the nectarines and plums gave the crostata its' 'eye candy' look. Spoiler Alert: It was over the top delectable.

Crostatas can be made either free-form rustic or tart pan refined. When made free-form, the edges of the rolled out dough are folded up over the fruit filling piled high in the center. lightly brushed with an egg wash, sprinkled with some sugar, and baked. For an understated elegant look to the crostata, the rolled out dough is carefully placed in a fluted, removable bottom tart pans (or shallow rimmed pans), filled with fruit (or jam), left plain or topped with a lattice crust, and baked. Regardless of which way the crostata is made, this centuries old Italian confection is the perfect way to begin the day or end a meal. 

Taking advantage of the abundance of stone fruits at the farmer's market, I decided this crostata would be made with a combination of nectarines and plums. When choosing fruit for a 'baked' crostata, look for the unblemished, ripe but slightly firm ones. White nectarines are a little sweeter than their yellow counterparts (this is due to the difference between their sugar and acid levels), but you could easily use yellow nectarines for this recipe.


Just as there is variability in the fruits (and or jams) used in a crostata, there is variability in the recipes for the dough. Some doughs use granulated sugar, others use confectionary sugar; some use eggs or egg yolks while others are eggless; some incorporate lemon and/or orange zest; some use a little baking powder to lighten the dough, others leave it out; and some use only cold unsalted butter, others use a combination of cold unsalted butter and cream cheese. The dough recipe used in the making of this Nectarine and Plum Crostata came from the Standard Baking Company's Pastries cookbook. Not only is it easy to make, it has incredibly great flavor and texture. Additionally, it rolls out beautifully on a lightly floured surface after resting in the refrigerator for an hour (although you can make it the night before).

Doubling the ingredients from the original recipe (the recipe post below reflects the amounts I used) gave me more than enough dough to line a 9 inch tart pan. I used some of the remaining dough to provide another layer of dough layer along the edges or the crostata. The rest I wrapped up and froze for use at a later time (maybe for a smaller free-form crostata). To neatly trim the top of the dough, simply roll the rolling pin over the edge of the pan. Refrigerate until ready to fill with fruit.

For some reason I am slightly stone fruit cutting challenged. This short youtube video makes it look easy. Rather than explain how I managed to cut 1/4" slices of nectarines and plums, it would be easier if you just watched the video. 

For added flavor as well as to slightly thicken all of the juices released from the fruit during the baking process some honey, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and all-purpose flour were mixed in the bowl of sliced fruit.

If you begin overlapping slices of fruit around the edge of the 10" or 11" tart pan and work your way to the center, it really isn't that hard. Sure a few slices of fruit may slip along the way, but with a fork or kitchen tweezers you can get them back in place. The majority of the sliced plums were placed in the center of the crostata. The leftover slices were placed randomly in the tart. Note: I used an 11" tart pan for this crostata.

The total baking time for the Nectarine and Plum Crostata is approximately one hour. In a 425 degree (F) oven, the crostata is baked for 15 minutes before the oven temperature is reduced to 375 degrees (F). Continue baking for 40-45 minutes or until the edges of the crostata are nicely browned (and slightly pulling away from the pan) and the juices of the fruit have thickened. Allow to cool to warm or room temperature before serving. Note: Always place your tart pan on a baking sheet before baking in the oven.

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." Luciano Pavarotti More than likely this sentiment has very little to do with being hungry. Could it be that our eyes rather than our stomachs tell us when we should drop everything and eat? Or could it be food is one of life's great distractions? There may be no better way to test out these theories than with this light, not too sweet, yet sweet tooth satisfying Nectarine and Plum Crostata.

Nectarine and Plum Crostata (slight adaptions to the crust recipe from Standard Baking Company's Pastries cookbook and filling recipe influenced by several sources)

2 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2" pieces
6 ounces cream cheese, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons ice cold water

4 large firm unpeeled white nectarines (or yellow nectarines), cut into 1/4" slices 
2 firm unpeeled black plums, cut into 1/4" slices
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour or cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Sanding sugar for finishing (optional)
Vanilla Ice Cream for serving

1. In a food processor, add flour, salt and baking powder. Pulse to just combine.
2. Add butter and cream cheese, pulse until mixture is crumbly.
3. Add water, pulsing until dough begins to pull away from sides of the bowl.
4. Remove and form into one large disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
5. Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour a surface and roll out dough to a 1/4" thickness. Place over a 10 or 11 inch tart pan (with removable bottom). Carefully press dough along sides of pan. Use a rolling pin to cut overhanging dough away from tart pan. Note: You will have dough left over. Either roll out long strips and adhere to sides of tart pan (will need to re-cut top of tart pan with rolling pin) or wrap and use for another crostata or cookies.
6. Place dough lined tart pan in the refrigerator while preparing fruit.

Filling and Assembly
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the sliced fruit, honey, cinnamon, and light brown sugar. Stir to mix.
3. Beginning at the edge of the tart pan, overlap slices of the fruit (skin side up) until the crostata is completely filled with fruit. Optional: Sprinkle top with sanding sugar.
4. Place tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees (F).
5. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees (F) and continue to bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the crust is browned and slightly moving away from the edge of the pan and the juices of fruit are thickened.
6. Allow to come to room temperature before slicing. Optional: Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Notes: (1) There is enough dough for a crostata made in a10" or 11" tart pan and/or a 10" free form crostata plus an additional free form 6" crostata, (2) Can use all nectarines (white or yellow) instead of a combination of nectarines and plums; (3) Always choose the firmest stone fruit when making a crostata (4) If making a free-form crostata, roll dough out to at least a 12" circle. Pile fruit in center. Fold edges of dough over the fruit. Brush sids of dough with an egg/milk or egg/cream wash. Sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake as directed above.

Summer's bounty at the Chicago Botanic Garden (August 2016)

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