Buttery crust with hints of apple cider sweetness, filled with figs simmered in orange juice, apple cider syrup, and cardamom.
About a year ago, I was sitting in my Italian class and our teacher asked us all to express to the class (in Italian) a favorite Italian dessert. We were working with the verb piacere, translated ‘to be pleasing’, used when you want to say you like something. It’s a tricky little verb in how the sentence needs to be constructed, so it was a little more difficult of an exercise than it might appear on the surface.
Many of the usual suspects were shared: tiramisu, gelato, affogato. Then a good friend of mine, Sylvia, piped up: “crostata!”. I remember thinking “crostata”? Are they related to a crostini but in a dessert form? Amazingly, I had gotten this far in life, with several trips to Italy under my belt, and had completely missed the crostatas found on many breakfast and dessert trays all over Italy. In fact, it would be a challenge to go al bar (coffee café) and NOT see a crostata being offered.
For the as yet uninitiated, a crostata is a bake dessert tart almost always filled with jam. The tart tops are frequently, but not always, latticed.
Well on this past trip, I made up for lost time. I had crostatas filled with apricot, strawberry, peach and mixed berry jams. The crusts ranged from soft and crumbly to a cookie-like hardness. Some were sweet, but my favorites were those that were buttery with just a hint of sweetness. All could be easily held in one hand to eat on the run, or at a small table in a sunny piazza with the first cappucino of the day.
I knew this was something I was going to have to make when I got home, and when I saw all the figs at the markets, I knew the filling I would use. This fig jam uses whole figs and is sweetened with a combination of orange juice, apple cider syrup, brown sugar, and honey. Most fig jams use copious amounts of brown sugar, which while fantastic in flavor with figs, incorporates more processed sugar than I prefer. My goal was to cut back on it as much as possible, while retaining a hint of the molasses that brown sugar offers up. I added some orange zest, cardamom and thyme to spice it up just a bit, but feel free to use whatever spices / herbs that you prefer if that doesn’t work for you.
As a note on making the lattice, I used a pasta roller that has multiple round wheels that I can space out depending on how wide I want. It worked beautifully on the lattice strips, ensuring the strips were even and quickly done. I bought mine at Sur La Table, but I’m sure they’re available in any cooking store, and it’s money well spent in my opinion.
As a final note: making a crostata is not difficult, but it is time consuming. But the fig jam can be made ahead and refrigerated, and the dough can be made and refrigerated up to two days before using. And while I haven’t done this, I would imagine you could make the whole crostata and then freeze it until you’re ready to serve it. But, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s worth the effort. This might be the best dessert I’ve made all year.
- 3 cups 13.5 ounces all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Zest from 1/2 of a navel orange or other medium sized orange
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 18 tablespoons unsalted butter chopped into small pats
- 5 tablespoons ice water
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- Turbinado sugar for sprinkling on the lattice
- [url]Apple Cider Syrup ∞http://thewimpyvegetarian.com/2012/10/apple-cider-syrup/[/url] for brushing on the lattice
Fig Jam Filling
- 2 pints of fresh figs I used Black Mission Figs
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 ounces 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons [url]Apple Cider Syrup ∞http://thewimpyvegetarian.com/2012/10/apple-cider-syrup/[/url]
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Zest from 1 navel orange
- 1 ounce 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar (or [url]make your own ∞http://thewimpyvegetarian.com/my-pantry/brown-sugar/[/url])
- 5 cardamom pods
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon honey I used orange blossom honey
- Combine the flour, sugar, orange zest, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Pulse a few times to disperse the sugar, zest, and salt through the flour. Add the butter all at once and pulse 10 - 12 times until the butter pieces are the size of peas. This can be best checked by removing the lid of the processor and lift some of the flour mixture with a fork.
- Add 4 tablespoons of the water, along with with vinegar and pulse the dough until you can tell the consistency is changing - that it's just starting to come together as a dough. Remove the lid of the processor. The mixture should still look like flour, but clumped together in a few places. Pinch the mixture to see if it will hold together as a dough. If so, you're done with the processor. If not, add another tablespoon of water, or more, until it does.
- Spill the contents out onto a clean workspace and knead two-three times to bring the flour into a dough. Schmear the dough four time across the work space with the heel of your hand. This technique is called fraissage, and is critical to getting a flakey crust.
- Divide the dough into two sections, with one section roughly twice the size of the other. Form them into two disks and wrap in wax paper. The large disk will be used for the base and sides of the tart; the smaller for the lattice. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, ideally one hour.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Roll out the larger disk between two pieces of wax paper to fit the tart pan. I rolled mine out quite a bit bigger than the pan so that I could fold the crust down all around the pan to double the dough wall on the sides of the tart. This helps prevent the sides from collapsing during blind baking.
- Line your tart pan with the dough, tucking it into the corners, and folding down the edges to double the thickness of the sides. The tart pan I used is rectangular with a removable bottom, and measures 8" X 11".
- Dock the dough by pricking the dough with a fork a whole bunch of times.
- Line the tart with parchment paper and pie weights or dried beans.
- Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and slip into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the dough starts to set up. You may need to press parts of the base down if they're lifting from the heat. Remove the parchment paper and weights, and continue to bake for another 15 minutes, or until the crust is very lightly browned.
- While it's baking, form the lattice top. Roll out the smaller disk of dough to roughly 1/8" thick and cut into strips.
- Remove from the oven and spread evenly with Fig Jam Filling using a spatula.
- Form the lattice top by weaving the lattice strips.
- Lightly brush the lattice with water and sprinkle turbinado, or raw sugar, on top. Reduce the heat to 400 degrees F, and bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is bubbling and the the lattice is a golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and immediately baste the lattice with the Apple Cider Syrup.
- Allow the crostata to cool for 10 minutes and removed from the tart pan. Serve warm.
Fig Jam Filling
- Stem and quarter the figs, and place in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the orange juice, butter, Apple Cider Syrup, salt, orange zest, and brown sugar, and bring to a simmer.
- Crack open the cardamom pods with the flat side of a chef's knife, and grind the seeds in a spice grinder. Add to the fig jam, along with the dried thyme. Lower the heat and continue to simmer the jam until it becomes thick and the figs are completely broken down, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and coarsely mash (I used a potato masher). Stir in the honey.