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Recipe: Crostata satisfying as pie, but easy as cookies

  • A blackberry jam crostata topped with almonds and Demerara sugar, July 12, 2019. A crostata -- as satisfying as a pie, but as easy to make as cookies -- is the stuff of sugar-dusted dreams. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews (Con Poulos/The New York Times)

If you crave the juicy, jammy essence of a fruit tart but can’t muster the energy to make one, let me introduce you to the crostata.

I met my first crostata through my friend Elizabeth Minchilli. An American food writer living in Rome, she’s made her way through dozens of crostata variations over the years, adopting the best bits from each one, then mixing them together to create her own spin. Her recipe, published in her new book, “The Italian Table,” (Rizzoli, 2019), has a thick, buttery shortbread crust flecked with whole-wheat flour and grated lemon zest, and a glistening, not-too-sweet cherry jam filling. It’s the stuff of my sugar- dusted dreams — and the reason I never offer to bring dessert when going to Elizabeth’s.

But it wasn’t until I tried her recipe that I realized just how dead simple it was. If a pie is, say, a 6 on the easy-to-difficult pastry scale, Elizabeth’s crostata is a mere 2. It’s about as challenging as chocolate chip cookies, but a lot more elegant.

Her big secret is that, instead of rolling out a traditional tart crust, she presses an egg yolk-enriched whole-wheat shortbread dough directly into the pan. The egg yolks make it tender; the whole-wheat flour gives it texture and a mildly nutty flavor. There’s no floury counter to clean up, and no sticky rolling pin. And then she uses a portion of that same dough as a sprinkled-on topping.

As for the filling, while Elizabeth sometimes uses jam she’s made herself, she’ll just as readily open a jar of good-quality, store-bought jam. The only caveat is to make sure the jam isn’t too sweet.

In my adaptation, I take the entirely homemade route, making my own blackberry jam scented with lemon verbena. A small amount of blueberries is added to the jam pot as well. While their flavor isn’t pronounced, the plump berries smooth out the seedy texture of the blackberries without having to strain the mixture. Or, you can use jarred jam, either plain, or doctored with some chopped fresh lemon verbena, and a squeeze of lemon juice if it’s on the sweet side.

As a garnish, I scattered sliced almonds on top. They make the tart crunchier and even prettier, without adding more work — in keeping with the spirit of this lovely desse rt.

BLACKBERRY JAM CROSTATA

By Melissa Clark

  • >> Filling:
  • 3 cups (340 grams) blackberries
  • 1 cup (125 grams) blueberries
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, plus more as needed
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh lemon verbena (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • >> Crust:
  • 1-1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (95 grams) whole-wheat flour
  • 12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks), softened
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • >> Topping:
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • Raw sugar, for sprinkling

>> To make jam for filling: In a medium saucepan, stir together blackberries, blueberries, sugar and lemon verbena, if using. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally at first, then more frequently as the mixture starts to bubble and reduce.

When mixture has reduced and looks syrupy (about 30 minutes total), stir in lemon juice and zest. Taste and add sugar if necessary (depending on how sweet your berries were to begin with). Cook 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Once thickened and shiny but still slightly runnier than a normal jam, take it off the heat; it will continue to thicken as it cools. Scrape into a bowl or heatproof container, stir in vanilla and let cool to room temperature. Taste and stir in a little more lemon juice if jam is too sweet. Cooled jam can be chilled for up to 1 week.

>> To Make crust: In a medium bowl, whisk together flours.

In a second bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat egg yolks, lemon zest, vanilla, salt and almond extract until combined, then beat in flour mixture.

Scoop 1/2 cup of dough into a bowl or container, cover and chill. Transfer remaining dough to a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and use floured fingers to press evenly into bottom and sides. Refrigerate at least 20 minutes.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread jam evenly into crust, then use fingers to crumble reserved 1/2 cup dough over jam. Sprinkle with almonds and raw sugar.

Bake until golden, 38 to 48 minutes. Let cool to room temperature before slicing. Serves 8.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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