An Italian Mid-Day Treat.
“Merenda”, the time of day when young Italian children run home in the mid-afternoon to have a delicious snack before finishing their homework. One of my most vivid “merenda” memories is eating “crostata”. It’s so endearing to Italians, the country over, that many famous cookie companies have developed their own versions of this popular tart, yet it’s never as delicious as the original.
This is why I wish to unveil the secret to making your own authentic Italian “crostata” at home. The base of the tart is what we call “pasta frolla” (a type of shortcrust pastry or shortbread). It’s basic preparation is among the most used in the pastry world. “La Frolla” is a dough made with flour, eggs, sugar and butter, which is perfect for pies, biscuits, and crumbles of all kinds.
Butter, as is the main ingredient, will ensure the most delicious results. Therefore, it must be of good quality and refrigerated (never at room temperature). Cold butter becomes more important when using hands, versus using an electric mixer.
Be sure to knead the ingredients quickly. Ideally, one would use an electric mixer or kneader, so as not to heat the butter with the warmth of the hands. You can prepare it in advance and store in the refrigerator, or freeze it, if you are not preparing the crostata on the same day. Before using it in the recipe, you’ll have to defrost it.
You may be familiar with a similar tart prepared by the French. There are some slight differences, however. The French tart is known as “pâte sucrée” (literally, sugared-dough). The pâte sucrée requires some cognac, a higher quantity of eggs, and a much higher quantity of butter, which reaches a ratio of about 1:1 (butter to flour). These differences result in two distinct flavors and consistency. For my version of the Italian crostata, I use the classic “frolla”.
Preparation: 30 min
Cooking: 40 min
Servings: 6 people
Average Cost: low/medium
Note: the “frolla” needs some rest time in the refrigerator before baking.
– Tart Pan (9 inch)
– Rolling Pin
– Notched Pastry Wheel
– Electric Stand Mixer (if you choose not to use your hands)
– Cold butter 1/2 cup (cut in small cubes)
– Flour 2 cups
– 3 egg yolks
– Lemon peel (grated from 1 small lemon)
– Icing sugar (or granulated sugar) 3/4 cup
– Nutella 13oz
– Cocoa butter 6 Tablespoons
– Liquid fresh cream to brush the top at the end
Kneading the pastry.
– If you work the dough with your hands like an Italian “nonna”, you’ll find this is a perfectly meditative experience. Though, I recognize that you may want to save time by stepping into modern times and using an electric mixer. The decision is completely up to you. If using a mixer, it’s important to use a “K” shape or leaf dough hook.
– Preheat the oven at 300° Ferenheit (150 Celsius).
– Put the flour in the bowl. Add the egg, sugar, and cold butter cubes. Now add either a tiny bit of vanilla, lemon or orange peel to give aroma and flavor to the dough. I usually go for the citrus fruits peel because the essential oil present in the skin add an incredible perfume and zest to the dough.
– Mix using an electric mixer or knead by “pinching” the dough and the butter to mix it with the flour and sugar but make sure it does not melt with the warmth of your hands. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and homogeneous. Then, make a ball/rectangular shape, wrap it in transparent film and put in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
While the “frolla” is taking a “siesta”, it’s time to make the hazelnut cream for the crostata.
Take two separate bowls- in the first, place the Nutella or hazelnut spread, and place cocoa butter (or regular butter if not available) in the second. Melt the butter bain-marie (take a pot and put hot water in it keep at warm/hot temperature. Place the cocoa butter bowl on top of it. Slowly the heat will pass from the water to the bowl preserving the cocoa’s integrity. When the butter is thoroughly melted, add it to the Nutella, little by little, while stirring. Keep stirring until the butter it is completely absorbed and the result is an even cream.
You are almost there…
– Butter and flour a 9 inch (22 cm) tart pan, so the crostata will not stick to the bottom.
– Take the dough out of the refrigerator and beat it with the rolling pin to soften.
– Then start to roll the dough until it is 2 inches think.
Here’s trick to spread the “frolla” evenly in the tart pan: roll the dough all around your rolling pin like a paper towel is rolled around its cylindric core. Now put it on the edge of the pan and unroll it inside. Adjust with your hands where necessary and trim the edges to collect the excess dough (you will use it for the final decoration). Then, prick the base with a fork to keep it from bubbling in the oven. Pour in the hazelnut cream evenly.
Take the leftover dough and roll it out on a floured surface. Cut strips a little less than 1/2 an inch, with a notched wheel. Place them on the crostata creating a classic square pattern. Finally brush with fresh liquid cream.
Bake at 320° Ferenheit in unventilated oven for 40 minutes. Bake at 300° Farenheit (150 Celsius) in a ventilated oven for about 30-35 minutes, and be sure you put the pan in the oven’s lowest shelf. If you notice that the top of the crostata is cooking too quickly, you can cover it halfway through with foil to preserve its humidity and keep it from burning.
Remove From Oven
Once cooked, let the tart cool completely and then put it on to a flat plate. Be gentle in the process; you want to keep it all in one piece.
You may choose to serve it with cold custard or vanilla ice cream. I personally love it, served with a nice Italian cafè or a good tea.
How long will a Crostata last?
You can keep the Nutella crostata in the refrigerator for 3 days, preferably covered with plastic wrap, so the “frolla” won’t get too dry or humid. The base tends to absorb the odor and tastes of the refrigerator.
In case you want to prepare the “frolla” in advance, and bake the crostata another day – remember that you can keep it in the fridge for a day or two maximum. You may also freeze it in an airtight bag for up to a month.
I’m happy to know how your Crostata adventure goes, so please post the photos and comments below. I’m sure it’ll be delicioza!