Monday, October 11, 2010

Crostata four hands


Friday evening has sort of become our baking day. It is a way for me and the kids to start celebrating the week end waiting for papa bear to get home. And to make something a bit special for our weekend breakfast.

Did you know that Italy is one of the very few countries in the world where they only eat sweet foods for breakfast? Nothing savory, not even a soft boiled egg. Forget bacon, sausages, beans, dim sum, cheeses, smoked fish or what have you. Here it is all about brioches, cake, cookies, cereal, yogurt, bread and jam.
We are quite international that way, switching pretty easily from bread and nutella to smoked salmon or bacon and eggs. But most of the time we have a sweet breakfast when at home.
During the week that usually means cereal, and when I say cereal I actually mean something as close as possible to the original grain, in color and sugar content. That is why making pancakes, brownies, cookies or any kind of cake is quite the treat on the week end.

A typical cake people eat for breakfast (or any other time of day really) is crostata. It is probably the most common household cake in Italy. It is basically a form of short crust pastry* covered with some kind of fruit preserve or jam. A more sophisticated version is made with a kind of custard and fresh fruit. We never ate crostata growing up since my mother is German and also not exactly the kind of mom who baked in an apron. Sundays with my parents were more about brunch and exhibits. The few crostate I sampled as a child, in the Seventies, were usually store bought, stale and made with an artificial-tasting concoction they labelled as jam. Not good. The result is I grew up greatly disliking crostata and refused to eat it for many years.

F however, grew up eating his mother's homemade crostata and is a great fan. My first adult bite of a home made crostata was a revelation. It is buttery and flakey, the jam (homemade or good quality) complementing the short crust pastry perfectly. The less sweet the jam is, the better in my opinion. I now really enjoy the simplicity and genuine old-fashioned flavor of a good crostata. The kind we buy at the pastry counter of our supermarket is really good, so good that I never felt the need to try to make my own.

Until the blog that is. Now, three months in, I feel like I have a responsibility toward my readers. I mean, I may not be a natural born baker and I am more than happy to take advantage of all that the modern world has to offer a working mom to make life easier. But shouldn't I even give it a try, at least once?  

So last Friday, my 4-year old and I baked a crostata to surprise Daddy. Result: it may not look like a million dollars (the two of us still need to perfect and coordinate our decorating skills) but, if I may say so myself, it was delicious. The pasta frolla was fantastic, buttery yet light, and the slightly sour rasperry jam was the perfect contrast to its sweetness. There is not a crumb left.

So even if, like me, you are still learning and words like baking bread and pie crust send a shiver up your spine, go ahead and try. If it goes wrong, just try again. That is the worst that can happen. But I promise you that if it works out it, you will feel unbelievably rewarded. Lack of time is not an excuse, the quicker you work the dough, the better the result, so being quick is a must.

* While looking up how to say pasta frolla this morning I found out it is none other than a variaton of the notorious short crust pastry (oh, all the stories of using the right fat, the important role cold plays in a perfect crust, the warnings of how tricky and far from simple baking a pie really is). If I had known this beforehand, I think I never would have attempted it, such is my fear of baking my own pie crust. So hey, ignorance is bliss!

200gr flour
140gr unsalted butter
60gr sugar
1 egg yolk
a pinch of salt
a small/medium-sized jar of good quality jam (homemade or store bought)

Egg and butter are best when used at room temperature. Put all you ingredients on a flat surface (some suggest working in the butter with the flour and salt first and then adding in the egg yolk), cutting the butter into small pieces, and start mixing lightly with your fingers and making sure not to overwork the dough. As soon as the ingredients have blended together, place the dough in the fridge to cool, covered in saran wrap. When it has cooled, sprinkle some flour on a flat surface and on the dough and roll it out into a circle. Grease a baking dish (I used an approx. 20cm/8 inch glass pie dish) and place the dough over it by rolling it onto your rolling pin so it won't break and then gently unrolling it, pressing it down to fit the mold. Cut off the extra dough and fold over the sides to crimp the crust. Cover the base with jam (as much as you like, but don't hold back) and then roll out the remaining dough, cutting it into approx. 1 cm (half inch) thick strips. Weave it over the top. If you prefer, you can use cookie cutters and cut out shapes to decorate the top instead. Place the crostata in a preheated oven (180-200°C) for approx. 40 minutes or until the crust turns golden brown all over.


  1. OK so I've decided I'm moving to Italy on account of the breakast thing. Looks great, nice work!

  2. Oh my, they eat this for breakfast? Why aren't I living in Italy? :D

  3. @Ladybird, @Lorraine: yeah, I guess life is not too bad here. My supervisor passed around Ladurée macarons this afternoon. Lucky girl, eh?

  4. Yum, much better than what I've got here in Texas.

    Plan B

  5. We have a pie in Greece which we call Pasta Flora (apparently an old adaptation of pasta frola) that is exactly like your crostata! I love these pies and as the Italians, the Greeks rarely have savory breakfasts. It's all about sweets.

  6. That is so interesting about the breakfast thing! Who knew? Now we do!

    I think baking on Friday nights is a great thing and your pie DOES look beautiful!

    Good Work!

  7. Chef Bee - from your blog it looks like you are not doing too bad myself ;o))
    Expat kitchen - I love learning facts and history about foods. I am intrigued by the pasta flora recipe and its origin. Maybe Italy got it from Greece? Must go and research.
    D,W&D - thanks for the compliment, maybe you just know about cooking sorrounded by kids... hehe

  8. I knew it! All along I knew I wasn't meant to be here in Oz when breakfasts in Italy have this wonderful Crostata - Oh dear..., I'm drooling this end :)

  9. I love this crostata and I love the fact that you bake on friday.
    I bake on friday as well because Shabbat - the Jewish holy day - begins on Friday evening! :)


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