Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Fruit Crostata, or Why I Hate Pie Crust

As much as I pride myself on being a baker, ogling cookbooks (even those without pictures) as I imagine fancy European chocolate tarts and old-fashioned, rustin Italinan hearth breads, I have a secret that may very well disqualify me from being a true baker: I absolutely despise making pie dough.

And how do I despise it? Let me count the ways. First of all, there's the whole shortening thing. Shortening really freaks me out. It smells funny, and it has the strangest waxy consistency. Plus, the notion of solidified vegetable fat is slightly nauseating. I just can't bring myself to use it in the kitchen. So when I read about all-butter pie crusts, they sounded perfect! Replace the shortening with butter, and the mystery fat is completely gone! But not so fast... pie doughs with only butter are maddeningly difficult to work with.

This particular fruit crostata beckoned from the pages of Barefoot Contessa At Home and didn't seem too hard to craft. But, with its all-butter crust, I should have known... something wicked this way comes (okay, enough with the literary allusions). While the dough came together seamlessly (little flecks of butter dispersed throughout the more cohesive dough is a promising sign of flakiness in the final product), it's the rolling out that's the real problem. Attempt number one began with rolling the dough between two sheets of plastic wrap, which was fast and simple. I felt like a serious baking all-star as I admired my pretty dough. Until I needed to actually transfer the dough round to the baking sheet. The plastic wrap and butter-filled crust were practically fused together. Before I knew it, my lovely 11-inch circle of dough was torn and quickly becoming sticky.

Pressure time: what to do? A torn baker, I wavered between my two baking personas, Lazy Sara and Cook's Illustrated Sara (otherwise known as Pretentious Food Snob Sara).

"Just roll it again! It's only been a few minutes, there's no way the butter has melted completely! Suck it up, flour the board and rolling pin, and roll it out like any other person would do! Come on, time's a wasting and you still haven't had breakfast!" Lazy Sara ordered.

"Not so fast! If at any time during the rolling process the dough becomes sticky or difficult to work with, transfer to a baking sheet and refrigerate until firm," Cook's Illustrated Sara warned, robotically reciting that wise America's Test Kitchen mantra.

But I was so hungry (so hungry I was snacking on the leftover--but tasty--peach peels). I needed to roll this thing out or I'd be eating breakfast at noon (late even by my standards). So I sucked it up and floured the board and pin, careful not to add too much, lest my pie dough become tough and leathery. Visions of "failed crusts" from Baking Illustrated vivid in my mind, I quickly re-rolled the crust and (somehow) transfered it to the baking sheet.

While I had prepared entirely too much fruit for this particular crostata, I mounded a generous amount on the dough and managed to pleat the dough somewhat attractively. A quick streusel-y topping, and into the oven it went. Out of my sight! Rarely do I get so irritated with recipes, but this one was especially frustrating.

Now, I know that I make this crostata sound like a real pain, and it can be, especially when you prepare it right after you wake up and haven't had coffee or eaten in 12 hours. Or if it's July in Georgia and therefore about 10 degrees warmer in the kitchen than normal. All of these things can make preparing this recipe sort of difficult. But I do think it's worth it, because the end product, impressive yet homey, is truly beautiful.

And I wouldn't want anything less as a birthday treat for one of my friends.
Summer Fruit Crostata
from Ina Garten

Ina's crust recipe is very straightforward: just flour, sugar, butter, salt, butter, and water. I think you can opt to use this recipe or your favorite pie dough recipe (by all means use shortening if you're not afraid of it like I am). Just be sure to keep the pie dough very cold, and your working surface and rolling pin floured at all times. All in all, this dough is pretty forgiving (I would know), and it bakes up wonderfully. I think a slice of this would pair perfectly with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, or a spoonful of lightly sweetened yogurt.

Yield: 6 servings

For the crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated or superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick cold unsalted butter, diced
3 tablespoons ice water

For the fruit filling and topping:
1 pound firm ripe peaches, peeled
1/2 pound firm ripe black plums, unpeeled
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and toss quickly with your fingers to coat each cube of butter with the flour. Pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board, roll it into a ball, and form into a flat disk. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Cut the peaches and plums into wedges about half an inch think. Place them in a bowl with the blueberries and toss with 1 tablespoon of the flour, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the orange zest, and the orange juice. Stir to combine and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine remaining 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the 4 tablespoons of butter into the mixture using a pastry blender (or your fingertips) until the mixture is crumbly. Rub it with your fingers until it begins to hold together. (Alternatively, you could prepare this mixture in a food processor.)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, on a floured surface and using a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 11-inch round. Carefully transfer the round to the baking sheet.
Mound the fruit on the dough circle, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Pour the streusel mixture over the fruit in an even layer. Working carefully, fold the border of the pastry over the fruit. It will form natural pleats as you fold.

Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender. Let the crostata cool for 5 minutes before carefully transferring it to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

1 comment:

  1. i hate pie crusts too-so always opt for desserts that have a crumble or other topping. it looks deliciious and i can almost smell the warm fruit.