Cranberry & Walnut Crostata

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona from briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

This month’s challenge was to make an Italian dessert known as crostata (tart). The base of a crostata is made of pasta frolla, a sweet short crust pastry made of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs. A crostata can be filled with any number of fillings including fruit preserves, pastry cream, ricotta, and fresh fruit. For this challenge we were provided with two pasta frolla recipes to choose from for the base layer of the crostata. As for the filling, that was left entirely up to the bakers.

I was not familiar with crostatas at all before this challenge, so I spent some time reading up on some different recipes to get ideas for various fillings. I’ve been suffering a bit from “holiday fever” as of late, so when I stumbled upon this Crostata di Natale (Christmas Tart Recipe), I knew I had found my filling. The pasta frolla recipe I chose (Version 2 of the ones provided) worked up very nicely, and I was ecstatic to learn Simona’s little trick of rolling out the dough on plastic wrap (you can then fairly easily flip the dough over the tart pan and then gently peel away the plastic wrap) – worked like a dream! And speaking of rolling out dough, I think I may have finally started to get a handle on the secret to this essential baking skill thanks to another of Simone’s tips regarding working with firm dough – I finally achieved rolled dough that looked like the shape it was supposed to! The finished crostata was excellent. The pasta frolla crust had a great flavor and texture due to the addition of almond meal, and the filling was pleasantly balanced between tartness and sweetness – a perfect treat to start off the holiday season!

Slice of Crostata

You can view the recipes and instructions for assembling after the jump.


Crostata di Natale – Christmas Tart Recipe
adapted from Sweet Maria’s Italian Desserts by Maria Bruscino Sanchez
Yield: One 9-inch tart

1 recipe pasta frolla (recipe follows)
1 c sugar
1 T arrowroot powder
¼ c water
½ c honey [the original recipe used corn syrup which would most likely yield a sweeter filling; the filling with the honey is a bit more on the tart side]
juice and rind of 1 lemon [I only used the juice]
1 c walnut pieces
4 c cranberries
2 T butter

make the Pasta Frolla
1/2 c [120ml, 60 g, 2 oz] powdered sugar
1/2 c [120 ml, 65 g, 2 3/8 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c [120ml, 65 g. 2 1/4 oz.] whole-wheat pastry flour
1/4 c [60ml, 28 g, 1 oz] almond flour, or almond meal, or coconut flour
1/4 c [60ml, 28 g, 1 oz.] whole-grain barley flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
6 T [90ml, 85 g, 3 oz] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 t vanilla extract
Whisk together sugar, flours and salt in a bowl.

Rub or cut the butter into the sugar and flour mixture until it has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.

Make a well in the center of the flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten egg and vanilla extract into it.

Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into mixture and then use your fingertips.

Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.

Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

make the Tart Filling

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, arrowroot powder, water, honey, juice and rind of 1 lemon. Heat over medium heat until boiling. Add walnuts and cranberries. Cook until cranberries pop, 5-10 minutes.

Remove mixture from heat. Stir in butter. Let cool.

make the Tart
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Take the pasta frolla out of the fridge, unwrap it and cut away ¼ of the dough. Reserve this dough to make the lattice top of the crostata. Refrigerate this dough while you work on the tart base.

To help roll the crostata dough, keep the dough on top of the plastic wrap that you had it wrapped in. This can help rolling the dough and can also help when transferring the dough to your pan. You can also use parchment paper for this. However, you can also roll the dough directly on a work surface if you prefer.

Lightly dust the top of the dough and your work surface (if you’re rolling directly on a work surface) with flour. Keep some flour handy to dust the dough as you go along.

If the dough is very firm, start by pressing the dough with the rolling pin from the middle to each end, moving the rolling pin by a pin’s width each time; turn the dough 180 degrees and repeat; when it softens, start rolling.

Roll the dough into a circle about 1/8th inch (3 mm) thick.

If you used the plastic wrap or parchment paper as rolling surface, flip dough over the pan, centering it, and delicately press it all around so the corners are well covered. Peel away the plastic wrap.

Trim the excess dough hanging over the edges of the pan. Press the remaining dough around the border into the sides of the pan making sure the border is an even thickness all the way around.

Prick the bottom of the dough with a fork in several places.

Take out of the fridge the reserved pasta frolla you had cut away earlier. Roll it with your pin and cut into strips or use cookie cutters to make small shapes; or roll with your hands into ropes.

Spread the filling evenly over the bottom of the crostata.

Use the prepared strips or rolls of dough to make a lattice over the surface, or decorate with the cut shapes.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Remove tart from the oven. Let cool on wire cooling rack. When completely cool, remove tart from pan. Make sure the tart is completely cool before slicing and serving.

Serve plain or with ice cream or whipped cream.