Christmas holiday baking has begun! Maybe it's because I love to bake and some of my first baking memories are of making Christmas cookies with my mom that Christmas is my favorite of all holidays. Besides all the lights, glitter, and shopping (what girl doesn't love those things), it was always a time when dessert for breakfast was ok, even encouraged! My mom kept us from tearing up the house and terrorizing her over our Christmas vacation by having us "help" with cookie baking. She would start her mornings during the holidays with two biscotti, which she only made around Christmastime, and coffee. Because our kitchen was overflowing with cookies, she let us choose our favorite cookie or two to dip in milk for our breakfasts.
To kick off the season, I thought it best to share with you another sweet that had double duty as both dessert and breakfast for me, the crostata marmellata. This recipe comes from Mamma Giulia, one of our amazing "mamme in cucina" in Puglia. Mamma Giulia is like the energizer bunny in the kitchen; she keeps on going and going and going from sun up to far past sundown. Not all she churns out in the masseria's kitchen is sweet, but it's all delicious. This crostata was the first thing she offered me when I first met her. It was also part of our daily breakfast spread during our Food Lover's Tour in Puglia.
Jam crostata is to Italy as apple pie is to the U.S. It's definitely a home-cooking kind of dessert, and probably every Italian mamma has her own recipe, but you see crostate in various shapes and sizes throughout Italy's pastry shops and biscotterie. It even ended my amazing meal at the fine dining restaurant Cibreo in Florence. Even though you can find a crostate throughout Italy, they can vary in quality. A crunchy, crumbly, buttery crust is what makes this simple and unpretentious dessert so delicious.
A few notes & tips: The key to the crust is the butter, the flour and not too much kneading. As there are basically only two components to the dessert, the pasta frolla and the jam, you want to make sure you also have a good quality jam - one where the fruit (and not only its juices) are used in making it. Butter will give you the crunchy, crumbly and flavorful crust, but it's important to pay attention to its temperature. It should be cold and stay that way, so i'ts important to work quickly and to keep your hands from being in constant contact with the butter. Mamma Giulia uses the delicate double zero flour also used for pasta making. In the U.S. it's sometimes hard to find and can be expensive, so I tested the recipe using only all-purpose flour, only unbleached all-purpose flour and a mix of cake flour and unbleached all-purpose flour. The mix of cake flour and unbleached all-purpose flour came closest to Mamma Giulia's. If you can find it, I would suggest using 300 grams (2 1/2 cups) of double zero flour as it creates the most delicate and buttery crust.
(Makes One 9-inch crostata)
1 ½ cups (200 grams) cake flour**
1 cup (100 grams) all-purpose flour**
Zest of 1 lemon
175 grams butter, (ideal temperature is 65-70° F)
½ cup plus 4 tablespoons (125 grams) sugar, plus more for the top of the crostata
3 egg yolks, mixed so the yolks are broken
2 ½ cups fruit preserves or best-quality jam (The fruit should be used to make the jam, not just the fruit’s juice)
**If you have/can find Type “00” flour, use this instead.
To make the pasta frolla: Stir together the flour, salt and sugar and lemon zest and form the mixture into a well. With a pastry cutter cut the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is the consistency of peas. Make another well with this mixture and add the eggs yolks and knead the mixture only until it is combined into a homogenous dough. Divide the dough into two balls; with 2/3 of the dough for one ball and the remaining 1/3 for the other. Flatten each into a round disk, and cover each with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours before rolling out.
To assemble the crostata: Roll out the bigger disk of dough between two sheets of wax paper until it’s ¼-inch thick. Place into a 9-inch tart mold and refrigerate. Roll out the second disk of dough, also between two sheets of wax paper, until it is ¼-inch thick. Using a fluted pastry ring, cut the dough into strips that are ½-inch in thickness. Remove the pastry dough-filled tart mold from the refrigerator and spread the fruit preserves/jam out evenly on top of the pastry dough.
Starting in the center, place the longest fluted strip of dough on top of the jam, then another across it, forming an X with the two strips. Working out from this center, add two more strips on each side of one of the center strips, spacing the strips about 1 1/2 inches apart. Then add two more strips on each side of the other center strip, again spacing each strip about 1 1/2 inches apart. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Before placing the tart into the oven, sprinkle to top strips of dough with granulated sugar.
Bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes, until the crust is a golden brown and the jam begins to bubble. Cool and serve. Buon Appetito!
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