I took my eldest son to Sicily for his college graduation and my 60th birthday. For me it was particularly poignant as my mother’s side of the family are Sicilian immigrants. The first of the family to immigrate was my grandfather Vito. I remember him very well, although he died young. He had a heart attack shoveling out his car in the snow storm of 1967 in Chicago. He was a benevolent presence in the family and I recall him sitting down to every meal with a shaker of red Chili’s by his hand.
One of the excursions we made in Sicily was near Siracusa, a really beautiful town on the water. We were invited to lunch at the farm of a Contessa. She was a lovely down to earth woman and a great cook. As a pastry chef, the dish that caught my fancy was a crostata. A crostata is made with a sweet dough enriched with eggs, sugar and butter called a pasta frolla. It’s usually filled with homemade preserves. It’s every housewives go to dessert and you also see it in many pastry shops. When the Contessa made it for us she filled it with homemade orange marmalade from local oranges. It was so simple but delicious. It’s one of those simple pastries that is heavily dependent on excellent cultured butter and great preserves.
After returning home, I contacted the tour guide and asked if he could procure the Contessa’s recipe.
I’ve made a few changes to her recipe and improvised as well since she didn’t give instructions on how thick to roll the crust, what kind of flour she used or how much marmalade to put in the shell. I found hers a bit too sweet so I reduced the sugar in the pasta frolla and added lemon juice to my preserves. If you want to add the sugar back to the crust, add back 50 grams.
I’ve used my own homemade blood orange marmalade but you can find very good preserves on line and sometimes in the grocery store. The first time I made this I used Bon Maman Séville Orange Marmalade. Any tart and slightly bitter marmalade will work. Sour cherry preserves or raspberry would also be good. I’d stay away from sweet preserves like strawberry or peach.
This pasta frolla recipe is enough for a 9″ or 10″ tart tin plus extra for lattice, leaves and flowers.
- 500 grams AP flour
- 250 grams cultured, European style butter (higher butter fat than standard supermarket butter)
- 200 grams granulated sugar
- 50 g egg (1 large)
- 75 grams egg yolk (about 3 large)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- Grate peel from one large lemon
- Vodka as necessary
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Grated peel from 1/2 an orange (if using orange marmalade)
- 12 oz Seville orange marmalade
- Cut cold butter into 1/2″ cubes and put back in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt
- Place sugar and lemon zest in food processor and process about a minute to release lemon oil into the sugar. If you don’t have a food processor you can just rub the zest in the lemon peel. You can also do this in a stand mixer.
- Add flour mixture to processor bowl. Process a few seconds until the ingredients are well distributed.
- Add cold butter cubes and pulse until the mixture looks sandy and there aren’t visible lumps of butter.
- Whisk together egg and yolks and add through feed tube while the machine is running. Stop the machine and pulse until the egg is well distributed, stopping from time to time to clean the sides and bottom with a spatula.
- If the mixture isn’t coming together, add dribbles of vodka until the mixture looks like moist curds. Dump the mixture on a silicone mat. up to 48 hours.
- Weigh mixture and divide by two. Take each half and press into a ball. Flatten each ball to about 1″ and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest in refrigerator a few hours or up to 48 hours.
- Take once piece of dough out of the refrigerator and let it soften on the counter top. Since it’s only an inch thick it shouldn’t take that long.
- Roll out the dough to 1/4″ between pieces of plastic wrap so you don’t have to use more flour. You should roll it out so that it’s about 2″ larger than your tart shell. Chill until firm but flexible. It will make it easier to get it into the shell.
- Lightly grease the sides of your tart shell. It will help the dough stick to the sides. Remove the plastic wrap and fit the dough in to the tart shell making sure not to stretch the sides. Cut off any excess with a sharp knife. With a fork, generously dock the bottom of the shell. This will help keep it from puffing up in the oven.
- Freeze the shell. If the shell is frozen, you won’t have to blind bake it, promise.
- Take the remaining piece of pie dough and roll into 1/8″ thick square between two sheets of plastic wrap.
- Take a ruler and sharp knife and cut eight 1″ strips of dough and some leaves and flowers. For the picture below I used my dodgy 4 wheel pastry cutter and it made irregular strips. Next time I’ll use a ruler and a sharp k ice to mark and cut the strips. For the leaves and flowers, you just dip them in flour, press it firmly on to the dough and lift it up. Sometimes the cut piece drops out and sometimes it needs a little nudge, and sometimes you have to pop them them in freezer so they release .
- Preheat your oven to 350F and place the decorative pieces in the freezer.
- Bake the frozen tart shell for about 15 minutes, until the crust is partially baked but not colored. Remove from oven and completely cool.
- Pour marmalade into crust. It should come to 1/2″ below the rim of the crust. Weave lattice on top of the crust: put four strips across the top and then one by one weave the remaining strips. Don’t worry if you have some broken bits of lattice. You can cover them with leaves and flowers. Remove leaves and flowers from freezer and arrange on top of the tart.
- Bake tart for about 30 minutes in the middle rack of the oven until the top of the tart is brown. I like to put the tart on a doubled tray to keep the bottom from getting to brown.
- Let cool completely and slice. This tart can keep for 24 hours. Don’t wrap it in plastic wrap. The plastic wrap will make it soft. Just put it in a cake dome or cover it with a bowl.